By Odeya Rosenband
School districts across Suffolk County have seen a sizable increase in voter turnout for their 2020-21 budget elections, in comparison with previous years.
2019 Budget Vote Tallies
Rocky Point: 916
Miller Place: 783
Port Jeff: 719
Middle Country: 2,058
Three Village: 2,087
2020 Budget Vote Tallies SWR: 2,947 (+1,458)
Rocky Point: 2,913 (+1,997)
Miller Place: 3,016 (+2,233)
Mount Sinai:2,965 (+1,584)
Port Jeff: 1,387 (+668)
Comsewogue: 3,349 (+2,537)
Middle Country: 7,639 (+5,581)
Three Village: 9231 (+7,244)
Smithtown: 11,071 (+8,293)
Notably, as opposed to in-person, all voting was conducted through a mail-in ballot this year due to the threat of COVID-19. This process made voting more readily accessible to all community members, who have largely been under stay-at-home orders as the county remained in Phase 2 at the time of the elections.
Among North Shore school districts covered by TBR News Media, the Hauppauge school district witnessed the most significant change, receiving nearly five times more voters than they did last year. Like every district, Hauppauge’s budget passed but is expecting possible cuts in state aid later in the year. This anticipation is another factor that helps to explain the increased voter turnout, as this upcoming school year’s budget is highly sensitive.
Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of Elwood school district, noted that despite the increase in voters, the ratio of people who supported the budget to those who didn’t remained similar between the two years. “Most budgets that stay under the tax cap pass,” he said. Voter turnout in Elwood increased by 253 percent from last year, with 3,985 total voters.
Not only has voting been made more accessible this year due to the mail-in format, but the fact that more people are at home suggests that people have more time to think about their local districts. With districts trying to formulate accommodations for the next year, keeping in mind the ever-changing nature of health protocols, district heads have routinely called this year’s school budgets more crucial than normal.
In terms of the number of new voters, Smithtown Central School District displayed the greatest difference with 8,295 more people voting than just last year. Interim Superintendent Russell Stewart said that, “The support [voters] have given us during this budget season [will] allow us to continue to offer the best education possible to our students.”
The collective increase in voter turnout for the North Shore school districts’ 2020-21 budgets — by more than threefold overall — indicates that mail-in ballots have been more successful than the previous in-person voting.
It is a unique comparison this year to other political votes nationwide, which have also had to contend with limitations from the pandemic. While votes were still being tallied Wednesday, June 24 for the 2020 state and local primaries, turnout is expected to be lower than in similar primaries in 2018. The number of polling places on Long Island have been consolidated, and instead of absentee ballots sent directly to homes, voting forms had to be requested and sent in before deadline the night of June 23.
In 2018, the most contentious primary for the area was for the Democratic Party contender for the U.S. Congressional District 1 seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1). Two years ago the total number of votes equaled 20,331. While votes were still being tallied by press time, the number of total votes for people who voted in person is nearly 5,000 less than last election, according to data from the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Full results will not be known until after July 1 when all mailed-in votes are counted.
As of press time, Perry Gershon is currently leading for the Congressional District 1 seat. Laura Ahearn is also currently leading for the New York State Senate District 1 seat by a few hundred votes over Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station).