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Why turnout in Buffalo's mayoral primary wasn't really as low as some might think

Why turnout in Buffalo's mayoral primary wasn't really as low as some might think

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Primary Voting

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown votes at Canisius College in Buffalo Tuesday, June 22, 2021. 

Those analyzing Buffalo's stunning Democratic mayoral primary, right up to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, are decrying low voter turnout. 

The turnout was just over 20% in India B. Walton's victory over Mayor Byron W. Brown.

While that figure won't set any records, it is on par with recent primary elections, and that turnout percentage was the highest among Tuesday's high-profile primaries in Western New York.  

Buffalo has 106,417 registered Democrats, 21,469 of which voted in the primary, a turnout of 20.2%. With 155,958 total registered in Buffalo, it means that 13.8% of the city's voters participated in the selection of the next mayor. 

The mayoral turnout was higher than the three other major party primaries on Tuesday, including both Erie County sheriff elections: 

• In the Democratic primary for sheriff, 39,199 of the 296,756 registered Democrats in Erie County voted, for a turnout of 13.2%.

• On the Republican side, just 11.9% of the county's registered Republicans (18,815 of 157,878) voted in the primary for sheriff.  

• In the 1st District of the Erie County Legislature, 5,993 of the district's 35,829 registered voters took part, for a turnout of 16.7%.

When Tuesday's primary is compared to Brown's recent defenses of his office, the 20% looks favorable, especially when one considers the mayor's low-key campaign strategy. Brown refused invitations to debate and hardly acknowledged Walton.

In 2017, Democratic primary turnout was 25% as Brown beat two well-known, veteran opponents – City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder and Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant. More than $1 million was spent in that campaign, with Brown outspending Schroeder's $300,000 by about 2 to 1.

In 2013, the primary turnout was also 20% as Brown, a big favorite, easily prevailed over a low-key campaign by challenger Bernard A. Tolbert.

When Brown was elected mayor in 2005, his primary victory over Kevin Gaughan and Steve Calvaneso had a turnout of 26%. Four years later, more than 40,000 Democratic voters made for a 37% turnout when Brown beat Mickey Kearns. 

Democratic primary turnout has declined over the decades. In 1977, turnout reached 60% (Jimmy Griffin). After there was no primary in 1981, turnout was 54% in 1985 (Griffin), 58% in 1989 (Griffin), 43% in 1993 (Anthony Masiello), 31% in 1997 (Masiello) and 29% in 2001 (Masiello).  

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News Staff Reporter

Long Island native, University at Buffalo graduate, part of the breaking news and criminal justice team for two years. Hired by The News in 1999, I covered high school sports for 15 years before being named deputy sports editor.

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