Jun. 26, 2023 By Ethan Stark-Miller
Just 44,611 New Yorkers took advantage of the nine-day early voting period for the June 27 primary elections for City Council, Queens and Bronx district attorney and several judgeships, according to unofficial tallies from the city Board of Elections (BOE).
That means only about 1.3% of the city’s roughly 3.6 million registered Democratic and Republican voters checked-in at over 100 early voting sites spread across the city over the period.
The sad showing among New Yorkers voting early could be due to this being an off-year election, with no higher ticket races for citywide, statewide or national office on the ballot and the City Council having just run for reelection two years ago. The short-turnaround for reelecting all 51 council members, which usually takes place every four years, is a result of last year’s redistricting, where the council map was redrawn in accordance with the biennial U.S Census.
Further adding to the low early voting turnout, this year saw only a handful of competitive races across the four of the five boroughs — with no primaries at all in Staten Island.
Ben Weinberg, director of public policy at the good government group Citizens Union, said about two-thirds of the City Council races this year are uncontested, so the low turnout is “unsurprising.”
“Many New Yorkers don’t even have anything on their ballots, or they might only have stuff like judicial delegates and positions that usually people are not really familiar with,” Weinberg said.
According to the BOE, Queens led the city with 14,355 check-ins over the past seven days, followed by Brooklyn, with 12,230, and Manhattan, with 10,648 — according to unofficial BOE data. The Bronx had the poorest showing with just 7,378 check-ins.
Queens boasts of a couple of competitive contests, including the District 19 Democratic primary, where three candidates — former council member and state Senator Tony Avella, former Queens prosecutor Christopher Bae and urban planner Paul Graziano — are vying to go against Republican Council Member Vickie Paladino in the general election. On the other side of the borough, incumbent Council Member Julie Won (D) is facing a competitive challenge from Democratic socialist Haile Kim, who lost to Won in 2021.
This year’s early voting check-ins make up a little more than half of the 86,890 who came out to vote before Election Day in last year’s June primary for statewide offices like governor, state comptroller and attorney general as well as the Assembly. It’s also down significantly from last November’s general election for all of those offices, plus state Senate and Congress, which drew 432,634 early voters across the Big Apple.
But even the more robust early turnout last November made up just 9% of the city’s active registered voters, far below the nearly 40% who went to the polls early in the 2020 general election, the year early voting started. There was, however, a presidential election that year, when voter turnout is usually higher.
But Weinberg said a better point of comparison is 2003, the last time there was an off-year City Council election cycle, or 2015, when there were only judges and district attorneys on the ballot. For example, Weinberg said, just 6% of voters turned out in the 2015 general.
Additionally, Weinberg noted that early voting isn’t a tool for driving voter turnout, but is rather a way to make voting more accessible.
“Early voting was never meant as a tool to drastically increase turnout, but as a tool to make voting more accessible and allow more people who cannot vote on Election Day, allow them more opportunities to vote,” Weinberg said. “So in that sense, it does what it’s supposed to do: it allows people to vote on other days other than Election Day.”
Election Day is Tuesday, June 27, polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can find your poll site at vote.nyc.