Low voter turnout hurts Brooklyn neighborhoods, Abbate says

BAY RIDGE — Assemblymember Peter Abbate had a blunt warning for residents who attended the Dyker Heights Civic Association meeting on Nov. 12.

If they want the government to listen to them and address their concerns, they had better vote, he said.

Abbate, a Democrat representing the 49th Assembly District, a district that takes in parts of Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Sunset Park, said the Nov. 5 election showed a shockingly low voter turnout in parts of Southwest Brooklyn.

The city as a whole had a 15 percent voter turnout on Election Day 2019, according to City Limits, citing figures from the New York City Board of Elections. Approximately 720,000 of New York City’s 4.7 million eligible voters went to the polls. City Limits reported.

The numbers were lower in many parts of Southwest Brooklyn. Abbate said.

“We have some of the lowest voting districts in the city. We come to meetings like this and complain, but we don’t get out and vote,” Abbate told residents at the civic association’s Nov. 12 meeting.

Abbate, who first won his Assembly seat in 1986, said he has noticed a voter decrease in parts of southwest Brooklyn over the past decade. “Our numbers are very low compared to the rest of Brooklyn,” he told the Home Reporter a few days after the civic association meeting.

In addition to the 49th A.D., Abbate said the 46th A.D. (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Coney Island) and 47th A.D. (Gravesend-parts of Bensonhurst) also have had trouble getting voters to the polls in recent years.

“You compare that to places like Park Slope, Williamsburg and Brooklyn Heights, where they have a big turnout,” he said.

The early voting numbers were low too, Abbate said.

“I heard that early voting at New Utrecht High School had about 100 people a day. That’s about 900 people. It is hard to judge because this was the first time around with early voting. But we need more people to come out,” he said.

The 2019 general election marked the first test for New York State’s new early voting system, which was approved by the state legislature earlier this year. Specially designated polling sites, like New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, were open from Oct. 26 until Nov. 3.

Only 1.14 percent of registered voters in New York City participated in early voting, amNew York reported.

Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone agreed that the local numbers are low. “But I don’t think it’s just our area. I think it’s citywide,” she told the Home Reporter.

When asked why he thought voters aren’t exercising their right to vote, Abbate said one factor is apathy. “People are turned off to politics and government in general,” he said.

He hopes that sentiment changes.

“People need to know the role that government plays in their lives. Government has a say in everything a person does in his or her lifetime, from regulating the hospital they’re born in, to the schools they go to, to the cemetery where they’re buried when they die. We have to make sure people know why government is important and that if you don’t like what the government is doing, then vote people out of office,” Abbate said.

Abbate recalled that he learned at an early age about the importance of voting. “When I was a kid, my parents always took me with them when they went to vote,” he said.

Vella-Marrone, who is chairperson of the Kings County Conservative Party, agreed that voter apathy is a troubling factor. But she also said she could understand. “People are just fed up. They feel that no matter what they do, nothing changes,” she said.

Education, or the lack of it, is also a problem, according to Vella-Marrone.

“We don’t teach civics anymore in school,” she said.

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