Where are the voters?
Turnout continued to be low for Tuesday’s primary elections, with only 104,873 New Yorkers turning out to the polls by 6 p.m. in races for City Council, Bronx and Queens district attorney and several judgeships, according to unofficial city Board of Elections (BOE) counts.
Manhattan accounted for 23,693 of those check-ins, coming behind Queens with 32,861 and Brooklyn with 31,482. The Bronx had the least with 16,837 check-ins. And Staten Island has no contests in this primary.
The nearly 105,000 people who had checked-in at the polls by early evening Tuesday far surpassed the number who voted in-person during the nine days of early voting that took place over the past week, which saw just 44,611 at poll sites across the five boroughs. That brings the total number of BOE check-ins so far to 148,484, or about 4% of the city’s roughly 3.6 million registered Democratic and Republican voters.
The low turnout thus far was not unexpected and is likely due to this being an off-year election for the City Council, with all 51 seats of which are up for reelection just two years after the last cycle in 2021, due to last year’s redrawing of the body’s district maps. City Council elections are usually held every four years. However, Tuesday’s primary featured contests for about a third of the City Council seats, with uncontested incumbents and party nominees automatically moving on to the November general election.
Also likely adding to the low number of voters showing up to vote is a lack of citywide, statewide and federal elections on this year’s ballot.
This is only the second election cycle that the city is using the relatively new ranked-choice voting (RCV) system, where voters get to rank up to five candidates in their order of preference.
One candidate in the Democratic primary for the council’s 9th District, Assembly Member Inez Dickens (D-Manhattan), told amNewYork Metro that the overcast weather conditions on Tuesday may also be deterring voters from heading to the polls.
“Today is rather slow this morning and I think it’s because of the weather,” Dickens said. “It always is gonna be a higher turnout in the presidential election or mayor or gubernatorial but it’s a high turnout for the fact that there’s only the city council.”
Dickens said the race for the 9th District, which covers Central Harlem, has seen the highest Election Day turnout across the city so far, following a report from the news site Gothamist that showed the district led the city in early and absentee voting. That’s due to the national attention the competitive contest — between Dickens, Assembly Member Al Taylor (D-Manhattan) and “Exonerated Five” member Yusef Salaam — has received, she said.
“It’s become known across the United States actually, because people have been writing in and calling in from all over the country,” she said. “So it means that the media have presented this as a very important race, as a race with three key candidates, that you’re really looking at strong candidates. And so it has caused additional activity that ordinarily would not be in a city council race.”
The race was narrowed down to three candidates and became even more competitive after the area’s current council member, Kristin Richardson Jordan, announced she wasn’t seeking another term. Taylor and Salaam have cross-endorsed each other, encouraging voters to rank them first and the other second, while Dickens — who leads in fundraising and endorsements — nabbed the backing of Mayor Eric Adams.
One voter at the Drew Hamilton Community Center, Jeanette French — a Harlemite who has voted for the past 73 years — said she came out to the polls Tuesday because it’s a right her ancestors fought for.
“It’s my duty to vote,” French told amNewYork Metro. “My ancestors fought for me to vote so I would not deny them the privilege of knowing that I came out. The weather’s not a problem. Candidates are candidates, politicians are politicians. You decide who you’re gonna vote for. And then that’s it.”
Many issues were also top of mind for French, she said, including establishing more African American businesses, carving out space for youth to spend time off the streets, accessibility for the disabled and housing for seniors.
“We need more senior housing,” she said. “That’s very, very important because seniors are on these lists. We’re living much longer, healthier, and some of us are on these lists for 10 to 12 years. And then we finally get a chance to move and most of the time we’re gone.”
French said she ranked Taylor first, Dickens second and Salaam third, utilizing the city’s ranked-choice voting system.
At the nearby P.S. 154 Harriet Tubman Learning Center, mother and daughter Vy Higginsen and Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson, who are the executive director and artistic director of the nonprofit Mama Foundation, said they’re voting for Dickens. While Higginsen said she likes all of the candidates, she’s supporting Dickens because of the Assembly member’s prior experience representing the district in the City Council.
“I really like all of the candidates, but I love Inez Dickens,” Higginsen said. “Inez knows the job, she’s done the job. Let’s get the job done. Because if the job isn’t done properly, we all suffer. I think all candidates have a right to to make sure they develop the skill sets, but for her, this is the right person at the right time.”
Higginson, Higginsen’s daughter, said she’s supporting Dickens because the candidate is an advocate for the arts.
“Without the arts, [the] community is definitely half dead,” Higginson said. “You need the arts to thrive and survive. Music is everywhere around us, and that’s my biggest thing: music is a healer and it’s therapy for all of us and without our performance arts, we can’t thrive.”
On the other side of Manhattan, the Democratic primary for the council’s 1st District — which covers Chinatown, the Financial District, SoHo, Battery Park City and Tribeca — is another competitive race. There the incumbent council member, Christopher Marte, is facing three challengers: policy expert Ursila Jung; nonprofit grant writer and founder Susan Lee; and teacher Pooi Stewart.
Jung and Lee, who are both moderate Democrats, have also said they would each rank the other second in a bid to help one of them overcome Marte.
Raquel Castellanon, a Chinatown resident who voted at the Manhattan Civil Court polling site, told amNewYork Metro she was motivated to cast her ballot over the rising cost of living and fear of small businesses being pushed out of Chinatown.
“I’m really concerned with cost of living in the city,” Castellanon said. “I’m concerned with businesses and small businesses being pushed out especially in Chinatown, which really is like one of the last holdout neighborhoods that really retains its sort of cultural history and roots in the community, [and] has been here forever. And as someone who feels like almost a guest in that community, I want to be protected. So, that’s why I’m here voting for City Council members that I believe are going to specifically address those two issues.”
Additionally, Castellanon said she’s opposed to the new borough-based jail being built on the site of the old Manhattan Detention Center, known as the Tombs, which is part of the plan to close Rikers Island by 2027. Castellanon said she worries the new jail — which is opposed by both Jung and Lee but not Marte — will also drive out businesses and make the area a less desirable place to live.
“I just think over time, having something like this in such a small, already very condensed, part of the city is not going to make people want to be here,” Castellanon said. “And that’s my biggest concern and there is so much other space outside of New York and other boroughs for this project. I don’t know why it has to be here”
Stay with amNY.com today for more details about the primary, including preliminary results later tonight after the polls close at 9 p.m. For more local coverage of the primary, visit our sister sites at QNS, Brooklyn Paper and Bronx Times.