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Voter turnout in 2016 looks to be on par with 2008

Erie County voter turnout in Tuesday’s primary elections appeared to be on par with turnout in the 2008 primaries, despite anecdotal reports that turnout surged in what was the first time that both major parties simultaneously had competitive races in New York.

With more than 93 percent of the votes counted just before 11 p.m., it appeared turnout would be only slightly higher than the 149,490 ballots cast the last time Hillary Clinton appeared on a presidential primary ballot, in a contest with President Obama.

Yet throughout the day, some local polling places reported large turnouts.

“We haven’t had a lull yet,” said Elizabeth Kerling, an election inspector at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, always one of the busiest polling places in the City of Buffalo.

Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Leonard R. Lenihan predicted that the overall voter turnout would be 35 to 40 percent. “It’s one of the biggest turnouts we’ve seen,” he said.

Previous presidential primaries in New York suffered from low turnout because the Democratic and Republican nominations already had been decided by the time New Yorkers voted. This year was clearly an exception.

Voter turnout was particularly high in predominantly white neighborhoods in Buffalo, Lenihan said, with more than half of eligible voters casting their ballots.

Lenihan pointed out that when he visited the Unitarian Universalist Church polling place – which represents five or six election districts –it had already recorded voter turnout of 15 percent by 9:30 a.m. “That’s huge,” he said.

Voting in Erie County was steady from the time polls opened at 6 a.m.

Lenihan said that at most of the polling places that he visited throughout the day, voter turnout seemed strong. One smaller Cheektowaga polling place reported turnout of 20 percent by midmorning, Lenihan said, and by late morning, a West Seneca polling place reported voter turnout of roughly 30 percent.

Not all polling places saw big numbers. East Side polling locations, for instance, had lower turnout, he said. But even many of those sites were showing turnout of 30 percent or more.

Overall, according to Lenihan, turnout was impressive. “And why not?” he said. “This is relevant because both nominations are in play. The residents here have gone to rallies for Hillary, for Bernie, for Donald Trump.”

Between the attention given to the candidates in mainstream and social media, and the active campaigning and personal appearances by Trump, Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Buffalo over the last couple of weeks, Democrats and Republicans had more motivation than usual to fill out a ballot Tuesday, political observers said. The mild, sunny weather Tuesday was also a help.

Michael R. Caputo, a local Republican strategist working on Trump’s campaign, said many voters who went to the polls Tuesday probably left frustrated after discovering they couldn’t cast a ballot for their desired candidate. He said those supporting Trump and Sanders were more likely to have been unaware of the state’s closed primary system, which requires voters to be registered with a specific party.

Election inspector Laurie Boyack, who has staffed the Unitarian Universalist Church location for seven years, said she had several conversations with would-be voters who thought they were eligible to vote – and signed affidavits to that effect – but probably were not because they weren’t registered with a party.

“They swear on their mother’s grave that they’ve always been a Democrat,” Boyack said.

News Staff Reporter Aaron Besecker contributed to this report.

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