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Disillusion, not apathy, stopped voters

I wanted to know why a lot of people didn't vote in Tuesday's primary. So I asked them.

Barely one of every five Democrats turned out in Buffalo, even with the city sinking and a primary for a new mayor on the ballot. Turnout was even lower in some suburban towns, despite the county's fiscal meltdown and a huge tax hike on the way.

Instead of a cry of outrage, there was a yawn.

I wanted to know why most folks didn't show. So I went downtown during Wednesday's lunch hour and asked two dozen nonvoters what kept them away. I asked a mix of men and women, older and younger, black and white. Some live in the city, some in the suburbs, none voted. I used just their first names, to prevent embarrassment.

Some said they were too busy, or forgot until it was too late. But others said they didn't believe it mattered, that little changes no matter who gets elected.

"They promise you one thing, then go ahead and do what they want once they get in anyway," said Diane of Cheektowaga.

"I'm fed up with everything," said Deb, of Williamsville. "I know that's a bad reason, I know that to vote might change things. But somehow I don't think it will help."

Becky, 26, said she never votes.

"I don't think it matters," said the Buffalo woman. "Everything stays the same. I don't have much faith in anybody changing things, it has been like this for so long."

Her friend, Jayme from Kenmore, agreed.

"They're all in cahoots. It doesn't matter who gets in, the situation stays the same."

"I can't name one person my age that I know who voted," added Becky. "Maybe people my parents' age think it makes a difference, but people in my generation don't feel like it matters. This could be a great city, if government was set up the right way."

Some folks said primary day got lost in the back-to-school rush, or forgotten during the work day. Even some folks with a stake weren't up to speed. A community activist told me it's just one politician or another, there's no real difference. A fellow media member said, with everything else going on, she didn't remember there was a primary until the day before.

Chris, 25, was getting lunch at a downtown hot dog stand. He hardly ever votes.

"When you vote for people," he said, slapping relish on his dog, "they never do what they say they're going to do."

"You got that right," chimed in Mike, 22, of Buffalo.

Pattie is "50ish" and just moved to Kenmore after 20 years out of town.

"They don't address the main issue, which is economics," she said. "It's jobs and taxes. If [Joel] Giambra raises taxes, I'm going back to Pennsylvania. If we were making New York City money up here, you could raise our taxes. But not with the economy up here."

Karen, 50, from Lancaster usually votes, but didn't Tuesday.

"Between work and getting home to the kids, I forgot," she said. "But it's usually a choice between the best of the worst anyway."

A lot of the time, it is a choice of the best of the worst. Candidates are handpicked by party bosses and required to pledge allegiance. The system is hostile to outsiders and independent voices. It keeps a lot of bright, talented people out of politics. After a while, people catch on.

John, 58, lives in Williamsville. He didn't like any of the candidates.

"I don't have a lot of faith in politicians anyway," he said.

"I'm disgusted with the whole thing," said L.C., a woman from Orchard Park. "The way the county is run, it doesn't matter whether I vote or not."

It's the price of follow-the-leader party politics. It's the price of living in a place where little gets done, or seldom gets done right. People don't stop caring. They just stop believing.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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