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Low Turnout Marks June Congressional Primary

What if they held an election and nobody came?

That wasn’t precisely the case, but turnout was remarkably low in New York’s federal primaries, held on June 26, which resulted in wins for the borough’s two Democratic congressional  incumbents who faced challengers – Yvette Clarke and Nydia Velazquez – as well as Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries, running to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Congressmember Edolphus Towns. Statewide, Republican contender Wendy Long snagged the Republican senatorial slot, besting first time Congressmember Bob Turner.

This was the first time that New York held a federal non-presidential primary outside of the month of September. Nonetheless, lack of funding meant that the city’s Board of Elections did not send out reminder cards to all registered voters who were eligible to vote in a primary.

“We are required and only funded to send out cards in August [in advance of the September primaries],” explained BOE spokesperson Valerie Vasquez, who said that cards had been sent to people whose polling place had changed.

As a result, pundits said a lot of people simply weren’t aware of the primary. “It was probably the lowest turnout I’ve seen for an election,” noted Assemblymember Helene Weinstein. “A big part of the problem is that voters weren’t used to elections in June and the BOE should have sent notifications to voters about the polling day. In some races, there was some publicity and turnout was probably more but most people didn’t know there was an election.”

That wasn’t completely BOE’s fault, added Democratic District Leader Frank Seddio. While the election was switched to June because of a court order, “They should have mandated funding [for cards to be sent out] so they could have done it. The shame of it all is that voters weren’t informed about an election they should have been part of.”

How bad was it? At 11 a.m., 64 people had voted at P.S. 152 in Flatbush, where several election districts were polling, despite having both a Democratic Congressional primary and the Republican U.S. Senate primary on the  ballot for voters of their respective parties. At 7 p.m., one Republican primary voter reported being the 10th voter at his polling site in Bay Ridge, which only had the Republican U.S. Senate race on the ballot. Councilmember Lew Fidler reported that he, his wife and his son were numbers nine, 10 and 11 at their southern Brooklyn polling place when they cast their ballots at 2:30 p.m.

Depending on the race, numbers were low or lower. With upwards of 600,000 people in a congressional district, none of the Brooklyn congressional races saw more than 36,000 people cast a ballot.

In the Seventh Congressional District, Velazquez captured 57.5 percent of the vote (16,415), against opponents Councilmember Erik Martin Dilan (31.8 percent; 9,777 votes), Dan O’Connor (eight percent, 2,282 votes) and George Martinez (2.6 percent, 758 votes).

“We won because of you all – because you understood exactly what was at stake in this election. This is your victory – a victory for progressive and democratic values [and] a victory for independent politics,” Velazquez told supporters. “I will continue to serve you as I have done for 20 years [and] fight for housing, business, education and fairness for immigrants who seek a better life in this country.”

The Eighth Congressional District provided Brooklyn’s most high-profile race, with Jeffries vying against controversial Councilmember Charles Barron. Hard campaigning brought out what passed for a crowd in this primary, with 25,880 people (71.9 percent) casting ballots for Jeffries, and 10,090 people (28 percent) voting for Barron.

“The political pundits said that this was going to be a close race, but that was before the people had spoken,” said Jeffries. “Today, the people of the Eighth Congressional sent a decisive message. They want serious legislator for this serious job so we are going down to Washington to stand up for our working families, seniors and children, and stand up for our president, Barack Obama.”

In the Ninth Congressional District (the only C.D. entirely in Brooklyn), incumbent Congressmember Yvette Clarke snagged 14,233 votes (88.1 percent) against insurgent Sylvia Kinard, who received 1,918 votes (11.80 percent).

In the Republican Senate primary, Long got 69,168 votes (50.9 percent) statewide, followed by Turner, who received 48,429 votes (35.6 percent) and George Maragos, who received 18,307 votes (13.5 percent). There are over 2.5 million registered Republicans in New York State.

Additional reporting by Heather J. Chin.

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