Uncontested races, low turnout OK: pols

Bill San Antonio

Of the eight village positions recently up for election in Roslyn, none were contested and no candidate received more than 100 votes.

But Roslyn officials don’t necessarily think the lack of triple-digit tallies signals public apathy toward their village governments.

“You have your tried and true supporters and those who will come out and vote rain or shine, but you’re not really going to get much more than that,” Village of Roslyn Trustee Marta Genovese said. “If you were to look back at the totals for uncontested election years, I’m sure the totals would tend to be pretty low.” 

Genovese, a seven-term incumbent re-elected to her position with 54 votes, said uncontested elections – particularly those that don’t become heated competitions – don’t give voters the same sense of purpose heated races do.

“I think it’s hard to get anybody to turn out because if it’s uncontested, nothing different happens even if they don’t show up,” Genovese said. “I don’t consider it a vote of no confidence or apathy, but people understand that you’re going to be elected no matter what.”

Roslyn Estates Mayor Jeffrey Schwartzberg, who was re-elected to his position with just 60 votes, said his vote total represents approximately 10 percent of registered voters in Roslyn Estates, and that the number fell within the 50-75 vote range he expected to go to the polls. 

“In this case, it was non-contested, so there wasn’t a need for a lot of buzz in the village or many preliminary things that said ‘please get out and vote,’” Schwartzberg said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a percentage of villagers just didn’t know about the elections.”

Genovese and Schwartzberg each said they’ve participated in contested elections for their village board seats, and that voters will come to the polls when an election is at stake.

Schwartzberg, who defeated incumbent Mayor Susan Ben-Moshe in 2011, said he “knew it was going to be a battle,” and campaigned for four months to earn the village’s vote.

“We got over 400 [total] votes out of about 700 registered voters in the community during that election,” he said. “I don’t know the numbers that well, but I’d imagine that’s a much heavier percentage than you’d get even in a presidential election.”

“We’ve had contested elections in the last few years that have taken a lot of energy out of the community, especially if they’re hotly contested. People get tired of it,” Genovese said. “Plus, the elections are in March, so no one’s really thinking of Election Day.”

Sarah Oral, a newcomer who with 55 votes was elected to the open trustee seat alongside Genovese that was vacated by Lisa Aberle, ran a traditional campaign of raising a petition to be placed on the ballot and attending the village’s Meet the Candidates event so that she could introduce herself to her neighbors.

“I just moved to the village three years ago, so a lot of people don’t really know who I am outside my development,” she said. “It was really a matter of when I’d see people outside, I’d go over and introduce myself and let them know who I was and that I was running.”

Winning an election, even as an unopposed incumbent, is not necessarily guaranteed. Candidates in villages with a small resident population, or whose voter turnout rates are typically low, are vulnerable to losing on a write-in vote.

“It’s absolutely a strategy that could work if you if you really got out into the community and pushed for it,” Schwartzberg said.

“It’s certainly the nightmare scenario,” Genovese said. “You want to make sure you have enough people showing up in case someone interested in contesting you gather 49 of their closest friends to come out on a write-in vote and get in that way.”

“It wouldn’t be much of a confidence vote,” she added, “because you’d be in but nobody would know who you are. I’m not saying it’s not possible, though.”

Genovese said increasing term lengths would make elections more of a “newsworthy event” for the villages, but Schwartzberg said that when he’s brought up expanding the mayor’s term length from two years to four, he “got a lot of pushback” from the community.

Schwartzberg, who governed during hurricanes Irene and Sandy, said the turnout could be indicative of how villagers feel about his performance during that time. 

“I think people have been satisfied with the job the board has done, particularly with the hurricanes,” he said. “I think people were very pleased with how it was handled.”

Genovese also said that a low-voter turnout during an uncontested race could suggest that the villages are being run just fine with the officials already in place.

“They know us, they’re used to us,” Genovese said. “The garbage is getting picked up, the snow is getting plowed. That’s what people want at the end of the day.”

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