Turnout mixed for local contests in Schenectady County
Duanesburg gets more than half of its voters to polls
SCHENECTADY COUNTY Duanesburg showed up the rest of Schenectady County on Election Night.
Based on unofficial results, it appears likely that more than 50 percent of the registered voters in Duanesburg filled out a ballot Tuesday.
It’s rare to break 50 percent even in a presidential year. To do it with just a local election on the ballot is unprecedented in recent years.
“We call these local years ‘off years’ for a reason,” said Election Commissioner Art Brassard.
But the big supervisor race in Duanesburg clearly grabbed the voters’ attention. The incumbent, Rene Merrihew, decided not to run for another term after nearly a decade in office, and both Republicans and Democrats made a strong effort to get the seat.
In the end, voters made the Town Board all Republican.
The commissioner said an important seat with no incumbent running can bring out the voters.
“People have to have a reason to vote,” Brassard said.
Voter turnout was also strong in Scotia, Glenville and Niskayuna, according to the Board of Elections.
In all four municipalities, more people voted than in 2011, the last local election. But Schenectady lagged far behind.
Only 7,267 people voted in the city, out of 29,960 voters. As absentees and affadavits are counted, that number will increase, Election Commissioner Brian Quail said.
But it won’t help a lot. About 27 percent of the city’s voters cast a ballot this year, he estimated.
Turnout in Schenectady has not been strong for many years. In 2011, when the city had a competitive mayoral race, only 29 percent of the voters voted, Quail said.
Perhaps because of the city, the county’s voters have decreased steadily in local election years.
In 2009, 33,179 people voted. In 2011, that dropped to 31,897 voters. This year, even with the big turnout in parts of the county, the unofficial total is 30,839 voters.
Presidential elections bring out more voters, but the trend of fewer voters is continuing there.
In 2008, 70,403 people voted in Schenectady County.
In 2012, which was perhaps less interesting since there was an incumbent running for re-election, Schenectady County cast 65,356 ballots.
Democratic Party leader and County Attorney Chris Gardner said he was dismayed by the turnout Tuesday. Even though his party swept the city election, he said he wanted more people to vote — Republicans as well as Democrats.
“I think everybody should vote,” he said. “To me, it’s beyond comprehension that people don’t vote in an election.”
In a stark example of the low city turnout, Schenectady City Council candidate John Mootooveren was the top vote-getter in his contest Tuesday but got fewer votes than when he lost the same race in 2011.
He won Tuesday with 4,155 votes in unofficial results. He lost two years ago with 4,221 votes.
In 2011, 4,221 votes was only good enough for fourth place. On Tuesday, it was hundreds more than any other candidate, making Mootooveren the undisputed favorite.
The 2013 election also featured some new campaign decisions by city officials.
City Council candidates from both parties turned to Facebook, paying the social media site to embed ads into viewers’ news feeds.
Facebook was able to focus those ads on members from Schenectady, a level of targeting that candidates said they liked. The ads appeared in the last push before the election, possibly catching voters’ attention just before they went to the polls.
Candidates did not have well-developed Facebook pages this year, but Gardner said Facebook might be worth focusing on in the future.
“A lot of people get their information primarily online,” he said.
Still unresolved is one last mystery from the 2013 election.
At the Labor Temple near City Hall, which candidates described as campaign headquarters, someone folded up the City Council election sign to hide Councilman Carl Erikson’s name.
It happened about a day after Erikson was quoted in The Daily Gazette regarding an attack ad sent out by the Schenectady County Democratic Committee.
The ad included a number of misleading statements about Republican candidates Joseph Lazzari and Joseph Kelleher.
The Democratic candidates said they had not approved it and did not want to publish attack ads.
But Erikson went further, saying that as soon as he saw the ad, he canceled his last check to the candidates’ pooled fund for campaign literature. He said he canceled the check because he did not want to pay for the attack ad, which he believed was published by the Democratic Committee using the pooled funds.
A day later, his name vanished from the front window of campaign headquarters.
Gardner and Quail, the Schenectady County Democratic Committee chairman, said they had no idea what had happened.
“We have a lot of signs in headquarters,” Gardner said. “I never noticed it.”