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Pathetic voter turnout speaks volumes

There are some 439 elected officials in Erie County. And they seemed to account for half the voters who bothered turning out to the polls Tuesday.

Turnout was a rock bottom 24 percent in Erie County, and even worse just north In Niagara County, where an estimated 18 to 20 percent of voters cast ballots.

Odd-numbered years are considered "off years," when neither federal offices, starting with the president, nor state, including the governor, are up for election. Turnout is historically lower, but this year it's in the basement.

Consider these trends:

In Erie County, some 141,000 voters went to the polls Tuesday, judging by the votes cast in the high-profile races, including county sheriff. That number is likely to climb to 150,000 or so by the time a few unreported election districts and absentee ballots are counted. By contrast, nearly 450,000 voters cast ballots last year. OK, that was a presidential year, when the vote is high, but consider the last off-year, 2007, when some 250,000 voters went to the polls.

It was even worse this year in Niagara County, where about 23,000 voters cast ballots, compared to 50,273 in the 2007 off year and some 96,000 last year, when Barack Obama and the old guy who ran with Sarah Palin squared off.

Here's a quick chart with the details.

And here's Bob McCarthy's story with more details, including:

The last time countywide races for sheriff and comptroller headed the ballot was in 2005, and turnout was 46 percent. The same lineup in 2001 produced a 30 percent turnout, which then was considered ultralow.

There's lots of nuances that come into play that help explain the variation in vote totals over the years. In 2007, for example, the races for mayor in Niagara Falls and Lockport pushed up the count in Niagara County. But there was a big issue on this year's ballot -- a proposal to downsize the County Legislature.

There were plenty of contested races in Erie County this year -- although I've got to note that candidates seeking 66 of 155 seats were unopposed -- and it didn't move a whole lot of folks off their couches.

In Amherst, turnout was 30 percent. Hamburg, 25 percent. Orchard Park, 24 percent. I could find a turnout of better than 50 percent in only one town or village in Erie County

The numbers were lame for county legislative races, ranging from 19 to 29 percent where there were contests.

Yeah, the absence of an election for mayor -- Byron Brown ran unopposed after winning the Democratic primary in September -- gave a lot of city voters license to stay home. But you'd think that an electoral push by Chris Collins, with his anti-urban agenda and the state of the county holding center, would have been enough to get more city folks to the polls to vote for sheriff and comptroller. 

All this gives lie to the argument that voters are in love with the notion that the smaller the government, the better, that the government closest to the people is better, etc.

Nope, when it comes to town supervisors, clerks, highway supervisors, tax assessors, council members -- to say nothing of school board members -- two out of three voters just don't give a hoot.

The ones who care include the pols themselves, who view government as a jobs program -- for them, their relatives and cronies.

Coupled with the success Kevin Gaughan is having with getting voters to downsize their town councils, I'd say Tuesday's dismal turnout underscores that voters believe they're paying for more government than they want.

Perhaps it's time they put down the bag of potato chips, shut off the TV and do something about it. 'Cause the politicians sure aren't.

(As for analysis of Tuesday's results, the Buffalo Pundit is worth a read. And don't forget to follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter.)

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