Voter turnout hits historic high

OBSERVER Photos by Mary Heyl Despite complaints about limited parking, voters in Fredonia turned out in droves at Wheelock Elementary School on Tuesday.

MAYVILLE — To many, the polls seemed busier than usual for a non-presidential election, and according to Norman P. Green, Chautauqua County Board of Elections Democratic commissioner, this was, in fact, the case. As of Wednesday afternoon, voter turn-out in Chautauqua County was reported at 54.35 percent, with 41,270 ballots cast out of the county’s 75,930 registered voters. According to Green, statewide voter turn-out as of Tuesday was approximately 52 percent.

“By the time we add the absentees and the affidavits, this number (for Chautauqua County) will most likely approach 60 percent,” said Green.

Green pointed to the four election cycles — presidential, gubernatorial, county legislature and county executive — and compared this year to the gubernatorial race four years ago. “In 2014, we had a 45 percent voter turn-out in Chautauqua County. Four years before that was 50 percent, then 47 percent and before that 40 percent. Percentage-wise, this was a historic election night for the gubernatorial cycle,” Green stated.

When asked what he believes accounted for the higher turn-out, Green said, “I’d like to tell you it was the local candidates, and for some, I think it was. But there appears to be a national cycle — an upturn nationwide right now. People were just very interested and very energized on both sides of the political spectrum.”

Next year, 2019, will feature local races, and Green hopes that voter turn-out is not as low as usual for the local cycle. “The two local years of the cycle, you generally don’t see a very good turn-out. The turn-out in a local year, like 2015, was 26 percent of voters in the county, as an example,” Green explained.

By comparison, presidential cycles yield a very high voter turn-out. “In 2016, the last presidential cycle, we had 72 percent voter turn-out in Chautauqua County. The year Barack Obama ran in 2008, we saw 76 percent,” said Green, who expects the 2020 presidential cycle to bring out just as many voters. “If people were that excited two years ago, particularly if you’re talking about Donald Trump against someone else, they’ll be just as excited in two years…We had two polarizing candidates, which brought a lot of people out,” Green reflected.

Green noted the challenges the windy weather posed for phone lines on Tuesday, particularly the outages experienced by the county board of elections. Overall, he was pleased with how election workers handled the day. “It was a tough day for our election workers,” Green acknowledged. “There were lots of voters who came out. We were just thrilled with the work that our people did, moving voters in and out of the buildings. It wasn’t expected to be that busy.”