Voter turnout low in Watertown city races

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Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 2:52 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - If you live in Watertown and voted last week, you didn’t have much company.

In all, 3,334 people voted - only 27.5 percent of the city’s 12,104 registered voters.

That’s not much. You have to go all the way back to 2013, when only 3,128 people voted, to find as low a turnout.

Why so little interest? The obvious explanation would be there was no race for congress or assembly or even mayor, so people just didn’t care very much.

The problem with that argument is 2017, when Lisa Ruggiero and Ryan Henry-Wilkinson won seats on the Watertown city council. And just like this year, there was no race for congress or state senate or assembly, or mayor. But in 2017, 4,329 people voted, significantly more (about 10 percent more) than this year.

There *was* a contest for a Watertown city court judgeship in 2017, but the people running for judge got fewer votes than Ruggiero and Wilkinson. So the judge’s race doesn’t explain things.

It’s not very satisfying, but the most honest answer is - we just don’t know.

A few other points of interest:

- The number of people in the city eligible to vote (the 12,104 mentioned above) is the most in at least eight years, and the increase is significant. In 2019, the last time there was a strictly local election, the number of eligible voters was about 600 fewer, at 11,522.

- City races are “non-partisan,” but the experts at the Jefferson County Board of Elections can crunch the numbers and break down the vote by political party. (No, the Board of Elections can’t tell how an individual voted. Your vote is still safe and secret.) The news is not great for Republicans, who had a high in participation back in 2011, when 48.7 percent of registered Republicans in the city voted, and a decline since then. This year, the percentage is 45.1 percent.

Remember though - that’s a “city only” number. Jefferson County as a whole remains a Republican stronghold, and a significant reason why Elise Stefanik continues to win a seat in congress by lopsided margins.

(What about Democrats? Their number doesn’t change much, or move consistently in one direction. There’s no trend where you can say ‘Democrats are doing better in Watertown,’ or that they’re doing worse. They’re just sort of...there.)

- There are still a few races to be settled from Tuesday night. In Lyme, Democrat Terry Countryman leads Republican Tom Strejlau by 15 votes. They’re running to replace longtime supervisor Scott Aubertine, who did not run for re-election.

In the village of Black River, Republican David Leonard has 121 votes, but there were 113 write-in votes in early voting and on election day. It’s highly, highly likely most of those votes go to Francis Dishaw, who is the current mayor. Dishaw lost the Republican primary to Leonard, but mounted a big write-in campaign.

And in the Town of Worth, two seats on the town council were up for grabs. Right now, John Bice and Jessica Patrzyk have six votes and 46 votes respectively, but there are 128 write-in votes.

So all three of these contests - Lyme, Black River and Worth - could be decided by absentee votes, which will be opened starting at 9 AM next Monday morning.

One thing that will not change: the outcome of the Watertown city council race. The only race where there’s any question at all - and there really isn’t one - is in the contest between Cliff Olney and Michelle Capone. Olney has a 73 vote lead with only 219 absentees to count. While it is theoretically possible for Capone to make up the difference, the chance of it happening is very, very small.

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