Where Were the Voters?

Exceedingly low turnout in the summer’s first of two primary elections could spell trouble for August

| 30 Jun 2022 | 05:46

New York’s first of two summer primary elections drew to a close on Tuesday night, after a long — but extremely low-turnout — day at the polls. An August round threatens to be even sleepier, despite big-name congressional matchups, some voters and politicians fear.

“I couldn’t count the number of conversations I’ve had over the last couple months with people asking, ‘So when is the election?’ ‘Is it actually in August?’ ‘Is it actually in June?’” said Harrison Marks, a primary candidate in NYS Assembly District 75. “It is not a good thing for voters, not a good thing for democracy, honestly, to have these split primaries.”

By early Tuesday evening, three hours from the close of voting, polling numbers from the first primary were at a considerable low compared to those from years prior. Of Manhattan’s 877,429 registered Democrat and Republican voters tallied in February, less than 108,500 — or roughly 12 percent — had checked into a polling place to cast their votes, including those who voted early, according to Board of Elections data. That’s down from a 29.5 percent turnout of eligible voters in Manhattan for the 2020 primary, which featured a presidential election during the pandemic.

Politicians rallied nonetheless. Statewide, Democratic incumbents Kathy Hochul and Antonio Delgado won over 66 percent and over 57 percent of the vote, respectively, in their runs for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, while candidate Lee Zeldin surpassed Andrew Giuliani in the Republican primary for Governor with nearly 44 percent of the vote, according to preliminary polling results.

In Manhattan, Hilary Gingold won the race for Surrogate’s Court. And in local Assembly districts, races ranged from nonexistent to fiery battles among politicians — despite barely catching some voters’ attention.

Upper East Side

Much of the Upper East Side’s Assembly race fervor converged in the evening at the corner of East 56th Street and Second Avenue, down the block from the High School of Art and Design polling location. District 73 candidates Alex Bores and Russell Squire, along with a member of candidate Adam Roberts’ campaign team, huddled within distance of linking arms with one another, instead hounding passersby with promotional pamphlets and guarantees that they were the “most qualified” or the only to live in the district, as Squire repeatedly said.

In one encounter, all three chimed in at once to inform a prospective voter that they were running against one another — and that she’d have to pick only one. Later in the evening, fellow candidate Kellie Leeson stopped by, too. “It’s politics in its purest form,” Bores said of the competition.

Voters had varying levels of investment in the hyperlocal race. Nicole, who cast her ballot for Squire, was keen on his intent to tackle crime in the city. Emily Bass was more focused on voting for Governor, saying she felt “more motivated to vote than I ever have in the past,” in part because of the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade. A third voter, Roy Sanfilipo, admitted to “cramming” before heading to the polls to cast his vote.

The Assembly race ended neck and neck, with Alex Bores winning 28.81 percent of the vote, according to preliminary polling data. Adam Roberts trailed close behind with 24.54 percentage points, while Russell Squire and Kellie Leeson each made out with just over 20 percent of the vote. Close to 700 votes went to May Malik, who announced her withdrawal from the race on June 1 and endorsed Leeson.

In District 76, incumbent Democrat Rebecca Seawright easily secured a win over challenger Patrick Bobilin with close to 85 percent of the vote, according to preliminary Board of Elections data — a far cry from the scramble in District 73.

Upper West Side

In the morning hours on the Upper West Side, voters quietly trickled into a polling site at P.S. 87, on West 77th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. One voter, who said she didn’t feel particularly strongly about anyone for whom she planned to vote, had a nonchalant air about the split primary dates, too. “If I’m not in town, I’ll just get an absentee ballot,” she said.

At the Mickey Mantle School, on the corner of West End Avenue and West 82nd Street, voter turnout looked much the same. The subdued energy matched the dearth of any local Assembly races; District 67 incumbent Linda Rosenthal advanced to the general election without any challengers, as did District 69 incumbent Daniel O’Donnell and Republican Ian McKenzie, the only candidates to run in their respective parties.

One Board of Elections worker, George, had hoped to see more young people turn out. “A lot of people don’t think voting holds no power — it does,” he said.


At midday in Chelsea, across the street from the FIT David Dubinsky Student Center polling location at West 27th Street and Eighth Avenue, Assembly District 75 primary candidate Harrison Marks lamented that there were few people voting during their lunch breaks. “Maybe it’s remote workers,” he said. “Maybe the way that people work these days is changing the lunch rush.”

At Bayard Rustin Education Campus, on West 18th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, fellow candidate Tony Simone campaigned beside State Senator Brad Hoylman, hoping to appeal to voters.

Some felt energized exiting the polls. Alex Clothier said participating in the primary was “something that in previous years, I’ve forgotten to do,” but “more and more, it actually seems to be the most important part of the electoral process.” He and his wife had kept up with the races for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, though he felt “less informed” on the neighborhood Assembly race.

Another voter expressed concern about the state of the election and of the country, which she described as “fracturing.” “I’m worried that a lot of people are not voting,” she said. “I feel committed that I need to; It’s my civic duty to vote.”

Simone ultimately took the lead with roughly 38 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election night data. Layla Law-Gisiko followed in second, more than 10 percentage points behind, trailed by Harrison Marks, Christopher Lebron and Lowell Kern. “I feel a lot of love out there,” Simone said while campaigning that afternoon.


At P.S. 41, a steadier stream of New Yorkers — some with young kids in tow — took to the polls at the end of the work day. On the corner of West 11th Street and Sixth Avenue, Downtown’s District 66 incumbent Deborah Glick and challenger Ryder Kessler stood feet apart from one another, gently beseeching voters for their support. “That’s democracy,” Glick said.

Voters overwhelmingly turned out for Glick, who won with nearly 70 percentage points over Kessler’s roughly 30, according to unofficial Board of Elections data. Grace, who said she voted for Kessler at P.S. 41, had researched the local races prior to the primary election — but commented that the split primary was “confusing even for me, as someone who’s been a poll worker in the past.”

Further downtown, in NYS Assembly District 65 — currently represented by new congressional District 10 hopeful Yuh-Line Niou — the race was far closer. Democratic candidate Grace Lee led the pack of four with 48.71 percentage points, followed by Illapa Sairitupac at 34.77 percent, the Board of Elections reported.

“It is not a good thing for voters, not a good thing for democracy, honestly, to have these split primaries.” NYS Assembly District 75 primary candidate Harrison Marks