For all the clamor about low voter participation in the United States, that lack of interest is not uniform. An analysis of high and low turnout makes it clear how to boost participation: Make people’s votes count.
Voter turnout nationally on Nov. 8 was clearly low by the standards of other industrialized nations. There are still millions of votes to count, though, and the eventual totals likely won’t match the apocalyptic worries that 2016 would be a low point for participation. Experts say the national rate should end up around 58%, right around the usual mark for presidential elections over the past century.
For New York State, participation is projected to have been about 56%. But NYC’s tally, estimated at about 51% of registered voters, is well below both the state and national average — and that’s not surprising.
The vast majority of NYC residents didn’t have a single race to weigh in on in which their votes would be important. Hillary Clinton won the state by almost 20 percentage points and garnered nearly five times as many votes as Donald Trump in the five boroughs. And there’s this: New York’s 29 Electoral College votes are all awarded to the winner in the state, not proportionally, so the margin of victory in that race didn’t matter much.
But elsewhere, where Republicans are competitive, state and local races, as well as referendums, brought out voters even when the presidential race was one-sided. On Long Island, participation was around 70%, thanks to competitive races for some congressional seats, as well as State Senate districts that will decide which party controls the chamber.
In California, where the Democratic Party is almost as dominant as it is in NYC, voter participation may have been close to 75% on Nov. 8 thanks to numerous referendums, including marijuana legalization.
NYC voters deserve more of a direct say in governance via referendums, and more choices in local elections via competitive races.