Political parties look to bring out vote for off-year election

This file photo shows Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard

This file photo shows Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer. (May 20, 2013) (Credit: James Escher)

Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer called it "the off-est of off-year elections."

Even though all 18 seats on the Suffolk County Legislature are up for grabs, there are no contested countywide races to attract attention.

"That means every person who votes is like five people voting in a presidential year," said Schaffer, who credits his party's ground game with building the current 12-5 legislative majority for the Democrats. One seat is vacant after the death of Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook).


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"You literally have to employ every possible method to get people to show up," Schaffer said.

Schaffer said the party will contact likely supporters five times by phone or at the door by Election Day.

In Suffolk and Nassau counties, presidential races bring out 65 to 75 percent of voters while gubernatorial elections draw turnout in the mid-40-percent range.

But party officials predict that on Tuesday only 25 to 35 percent of Long Island voters will show up at the polls -- even though the elected offices on the ballot determine everything from what can be built in local neighborhoods to garbage collection.

"The electorate is always more interested in federal or state races because of the national issues involved," said John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman.

LaValle said the Suffolk GOP hopes to capitalize on dissatisfaction with gridlock in Washington and the Affordable Care Act. "A lot of the electorate is leaning Republican," he said. "We just have to make sure we get them out of the house to vote."

Unlike Suffolk, Nassau has a high-profile county executive race with Democrat Thomas Suozzi seeking a comeback against GOP incumbent Edward Mangano, who beat him in 2009 by 386 votes.

Joseph Mondello, Nassau Republican chairman, said turnout is "absolutely key" in winning in off years, and a push to get out the vote can add 3 percent to a candidate's tally.

"When people wake up Tuesday morning in an off-year, their first thought is not to go out and vote," Mondello said. He said the county GOP organization planned to do a mass walk-through for volunteers Saturday, and would hold events to rev up GOP troops Sunday.

On election morning, each of the county's 70 local GOP leaders will hold breakfasts for volunteers, who will deliver sample ballots to homeowners. By 4 p.m., party workers will begin making calls and knocking on doors of voters who have yet to cast ballots, offering rides to the polls and other assistance, Mondello said.

Democrats acknowledge that Republicans often have an edge in off-year elections because their voters tend to be older, own homes and follow local pocketbook issues including taxes.

Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, said the party is looking to pull out a larger number of county voters who are younger, more diverse and lean Democrat who normally only vote in presidential years. "We have a deeper well from which to draw from, but it's a heavier lift," he said.

He said the party is using new computer data in an attempt to attract 100,000new voters and get them to the polls Tuesday. Jacobs said many Democrats who sat out in 2009 during the fiscal meltdown and tea party surge are likely to turn out after four years of a GOP county executive.

Mondello and Jacobs each say they expect to have more than 2,800 volunteers in the streets or at phone banks to get out the vote.

LaValle said he expects to have more than 1,000 volunteers working on Election Day; Schaffer estimated that Suffolk Democrats will have 3,000, including 350 paid workers.

Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who often works for Republicans, said turnout efforts can be more than offset by public disgust with negative campaigning.

"It used to be that you only went negative at the end, and if you were behind," Dawidziak said. "Now people go negative out of the box to identify their opponents before they can identify themselves."

The problem is that "negative campaigning always depresses turnout," Dawidziak said. "You just hope it depresses your opponent's and not your own."