Jefferson, St. Lawrence see low turnout in early voting

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Early voting is now underway in New York State.
Early voting is now underway in New York State.(wwny)
Updated: Nov. 2, 2020 at 3:24 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Those long lines we saw when early voting started in the north country a couple of weeks ago?

They didn’t last.

Data compiled by New York state shows Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties had the two lowest rates of turnout for early voting in the state, at 7.53 percent and 7.36 percent respectively.

Elections officials in Jefferson County weren’t sure why the number was so low, but other northern New York counties also reported low turnouts.

Lewis County, on the other hand, reported a turnout of nearly 15 percent.

Also, even though Democrats voted in far greater numbers to start in Jefferson County, by the time early voting was over, about the same number of Republicans and Democrats had voted, 1974 Democrats and 1838 Republicans.

But in St. Lawrence County, Democrats continued to outpace Republicans throughout early voting, 2,406 to 1,347. Likewise, Clinton County, another county where Democrats are strong, saw more Democrats than Republicans vote early.

One other number to consider: by our very rough and incomplete count, there are at least 43,000 mail-in votes in the 21st congressional district - and really, there are more. We’re missing a few counties, at this point. But based on what we do have, it appears more Democrats than Republicans are using absentee voting - in Jefferson County, for instance, Democrats are 42 percent of the absentees already sent back in, while Republicans are 33 percent.

The question is, does any of this mean anything? Does the large number of absentee ballots mean more people are voting this year, or just that people didn’t want to vote in person because of COVID? And do the numbers really favor Democrats? It’s important to remember that northern New York is basically a conservative area, with 46,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.

Perspective: in 2016, 38,000 people in Jefferson County voted in the presidential race. That was 68 percent of registered voters. So far this year, combining early voting and mail-ins, just under 12,000 people have already voted. It seems like a stretch to believe this year’s vote will be far above 38,000.

One other thing to remember: if a race is too close to call Tuesday night, it will be more than a week before all the mail-in votes are counted. So if we don’t get a definitive answer election night in, say, the Stefanik-Cobb race for congress or the Walczyk-Hammond race for state Assembly, or even the Duve-Storie race for St. Lawrence County judge, be prepared to be patient.

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