Early exit polls from Virginia’s gubernatorial race showed that the percentage of voters who were under 30 shrank significantly from last year. The same seems to be true for the Tompkins County local elections, as most Cornellians did not turn out for what were largely uncontested elections.
Deb Mollenhoff (D-3rd Ward), Eddie Rooker (D-4th Ward) and Ellen McCollister (D-5th Ward) all won uncontested races for Alderperson of the Ithaca City Council. In a very tight four-way race for two seats in the Town of Dryden’s City Council, Jason Liefer (D) and Stephen Stelick (R) were leading challengers Simon St. Laurent (D) and Deborah Shigley (R) by a couple hundred votes as of 11 p.m. last night. Michael Lane (D) appears to have emerged the victor over James Crawford (R) in a race decided by 39 votes (out of 1453 total cast) for County Legislature District 14.
In the only county-wide election, Gwen Wilkinson (D) was elected in an unchallenged race for District Attorney. County-wide votes also determined the fate of two referendums, one authorizing a land exchange by the City of Ithaca and another allowing former prisoners to work for non-profit organizations. Both passed by wide margins.
Several poll workers attested to a slow day marked by irregular turnout. Paul Norman, a polling station manager in the Alice Cook House, said around 4 p.m. yesterday that only eight ballots had been cast throughout the day. Marlene Feldman, a worker at the polling place for Districts 1, 2 and 5, said that turnout had been “very low.”
Rooker won his election by 38 votes in a Ward that contains over a thousand eligible voters. At the Robert Purcell Community Center on North Campus, there were only nine voters throughout the entire day.
For the first time in Tompkins County (and for most of New York State), voters casted their ballots electronically. None of the poll workers spoken to for this article identified any problems with the machines; Paul Norman, the manager for polling station in Collegetown, said that “the new machines have been working great.”
One poll worker said that the booths had been seamless, though he also admitted that “it wasn’t exactly tested very much.”
Although most Cornellians did not take an interest in this year’s elections, both the Cornell Republicans and the Cornell Democrats took active roles in campaigning for their parties.
Konstantin Drabkin ’11, president of the Cornell Republicans, said that the group spent much of Saturday campaigning in Dryden for Jim Crawford (R), who lost by a very small margin.
Drabkin attested to Crawford’s personal dignity and magnanimous nature, saying that Crawford “went out of his way” to be of service to “college kids he could have easily ignored.”
Drabkin added that he has become personally acquainted with Crawford, and that Crawford even offered to set up a Cornell Republicans headquarters in Dryden.
Michael Schillawski ’10 and the Cornell Democrats countered their efforts. Dems’ President, Schillawski said that the vanfull of students who canvassed in Dryden for Lane hit over 400 houses. For a race decided by fewer than 50 votes, their efforts had the ability to make a major impact.
Despite the very low turnout, some poll workers were unsurprised that elections with essentially predetermined outcomes did not generate more participation. “The bigger question is why do people turn out at all [in an already decided election]?” voter Adam Perl ’67 said.
Beth Feldman ’69, whose husband is head of the Cornell language department, said that she turned out because she “wanted to show [her] support for the Democratic party and its goals.”
As for Perl, he decided to take part because voting “is an important civic duty.”
Leslie Danks Burke, who is the chairwoman of the Town of Ithaca’s Democratic Committee, said she was “disappointed” by the low turnout because “it’s important for people to be engaged in the democratic process.” “It’s how our country runs,” she added.
Still, these high-minded civic ideals are often insufficient for most voters. “Elections in off years always have lower turnouts … especially after presidential elections” said Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, adding that people “tend to return to their own lives” after a heated election cycle.
This made for a dreary day at the polls. “No question it was more fun last year...with all that energy,” Thomas said.