Dawidziak: Long Island voters navigate a turbulent election
Michael DawidziakMichael Dawidziak
Michael Dawidziak writes an opinion page column for Newsday. He
The voting on Long Island this week tells much about our character. In the wake of the devastation caused by Sandy, many Long Islanders were still without power going into Tuesday. Some people remained homeless, and most were sweating out the fuel levels in their gas tanks. It's too early to tell what the final voter turnout number will be, but unofficial results are a testament to our determination to vote.
Normal presidential year turnout in Nassau and Suffolk is about 70 percent of registered voters, and as of Tuesday night, the turnout was around 53 percent. But a ton of paper ballots was accepted on Tuesday due to power problems and displaced voters who were allowed to vote at any polling place with affidavit ballots. By the time these and the outstanding absentee ballots are counted, turnout will probably be north of 60 percent. In Sandy's aftermath, that's a very impressive number.
And while we're on the subject of outstanding performance, two government agencies should be singled out for making the election proceed more smoothly than expected.
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One is the U.S. Postal Service. Some voters may wish it hadn't done such a good job delivering that mountain of campaign mailings. But for the many Long Islanders without electricity, postal mail kept them informed and aware of the electoral process. As a political consultant, I can attest that most of my clients' bulk-rate political mailings arrived within a day of being dropped. That's an astounding accomplishment given last week's conditions. Postal workers of Long Island, take a bow.
The other government agencies that came through big were the Nassau and Suffolk County Boards of Elections. Yes, there are reports of problems with an unusually high number of optical scanners, and those must be addressed. But under an extremely short deadline, the boards had to get generators to polling sites out of power, change polling places in devastated areas and ensure that every polling place had an adequate supply of paper ballots for displaced voters.
While you could never expect this process to go perfectly -- it doesn't in normal years -- overall, the boards kept the voters informed on location changes and ensured that everybody had a chance to cast a ballot.
As far as how Long Island voted, we proved once again that we are a bunch of ticket-splitting swingers. Both major parties can claim bragging rights for impressive victories, while neither party had things go all their way. President Barack Obama won Suffolk marginally and Nassau impressively, by about 6 percent. Suffolk County Democratic chairman, Rich Schaffer, who himself won in a landslide as Babylon Town supervisor, can claim victory in the biggest race on the Island and the one he made plain he truly cared about: Rep. Tim Bishop's re-election victory over GOP challenger Randy Altschuler. The Democrats can also point to Michaelle Solages' victory in Nassau's new 22nd Assembly District.
But the Republicans held control of the Nassau County Legislature, with Michael Venditto's victory in the special election to fill the late Peter Schmitt's seat. They also won the open seat for State Senate, with Phil Boyle's victory in the race to replace retiring Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon). The GOP also won the two open seats for the State Assembly, with Andrew Garbarino and Chad Lupinacci's victories. And, perhaps most significant, they recaptured the Brookhaven Town supervisor post with Ed Romaine's lopsided victory.
So, Long Island voters, you should take a bow, too. You showed that you won't be counted out -- and you won't be taken for granted.
Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.