Voters on Election Day

A voter on Election Day in November 2019 at one of the local polling stations. (Photo by Casey Martin)

In the first year of early voting in New York State, Tompkins County saw almost 10 percent of total votes cast during the early voting period -- but not much increase in terms of overall participation from years prior. 

In total, 1,408 people voted during the early period of votes cast came during the extra time prior to Election Day in Tompkins County. On Election Day itself, there were 15,000 votes cast by the 56,023 eligible voters throughout Tompkins County, meaning 2.51 percent of total eligible voters used the early period (though that also means just under 10 percent of people who did vote this year used the early voting option).

Stephen Dewitt, the Democratic commissioner for the Tompkins County Board of Elections, noted this year’s turnout is a slight decrease from 2017, the last time there were primarily local elections without the additional boost of a national mid-term or presidential election. He theorized this was due to the lack of contested races and having no races for seats on the Tompkins County Legislature. Notably, this election year saw 52 races in the county, but only 18 of them contested. 

In the City of Ithaca, which had some write-in challengers emerge for Common Council seats in the week before Election Day, 2,776 people cast ballots on Election Day, and 281 people took advantage of the early voting, out of the 12,248 eligible voters in the City. In Tompkins County overall, turnout wasn’t meaningfully different from other election years. Including early voting this year, 26.77 percent of registered voters voted, compared to: 35 percent in 2013, 25 percent in 2015, and 38 percent in 2017.

Since this was the first year of early voting, Dewitt is unsure of how effective it was for the Tompkins County electorate. He did note there was a great deal of positive feedback received by polling workers. 

“I can tell that by feedback from our poll workers who were working the early voting that it was pretty much universal that people who did vote early liked it,” Dewitt said. “They like the convenience of it, there were no lines for early voting, which I think they liked. It’s a convenience where people who have busy lives try to cram their voting to one day, they have 60 hours or the nine days leading up to the election to vote early.” 

Dewitt is confident that the more people become aware of early voting, the more it will become popular, as he has seen from trends in other states. 

On election day, the highest polling locations in Tompkins County were the Caroline Center Church and the Brooktondale Fire Hall representing the three election precincts of Caroline. The Caroline first and third precincts were the only two places in the county to have over 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot. 

A continued trend from last year is that Alice Cook House, the polling location for the City of Ithaca 5-3 election precinct had the lowest voter turnout in the county at 7.10 percent. This, according to Dewitt, is not uncommon for the Collegetown election precincts since this, along with the fourth ward polling location, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, are primarily polling places for students, a transitory section of Ithaca’s population. He said since students move around quite a bit, such as changing their dorm or moving to an off-campus apartment. However, their names remain on the books for being a part of that voting precinct. Other times they may not be in Ithaca anymore since they more than likely graduated and haven’t updated their voter registration.

There are still around 500-600 uncounted ballots for Tompkins County, consisting primarily of absentee or mail-in ballots, according to Dewitt, who said he’s confident the counting of those won’t be enough to change the outcome of any of the elections.

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