This most bizarre election season had an unusual but praiseworthy coda: Long Island saw a significant increase in voter turnout.
Four years ago, the presidential contest pitting Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton saw some 650,000 Nassau voters cast ballots for a presidential candidate. This time around, for Trump’s unsuccessful reelection bid, more than 730,000 voted for president in the county.
In Suffolk, some 680,000 voted for president in 2016. That number was more than 770,000 this year.
The presidential turnout as a percentage of active registered voters also shifted up this cycle, following a pattern this year in New York and around the country.
That’s welcome news.
It’s no secret that American voter turnout is abysmally low compared to other democracies including one like Australia, where voting is compulsory. In non-presidential years it can be worse. Take the low-turnout 2014 midterms, when some 140 million eligible Americans did not vote, according to the United States Election Project of University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald. That chunk of missing voters is equivalent to the population of Russia.
In America, where voting is considered a right but not an obligation, it will be difficult to get more Americans engaged in the political process. Still, expanding interest in, as well as access to, the ballot box must be a priority in New York and elsewhere.
More Long Islanders were able to vote this year with the first chance to do early in-person presidential voting, plus expanded absentee voting due to the pandemic. Now Albany must move with other additions like getting no-fault absentee voting into the state Constitution.
Another reason that turnout increased this year was likely the intense interest in the top of the ticket and the belief by many voters that so much was at stake for the country.
The civic participation was admirable. Less admirable, actually dangerous to our faith in the integrity of our elections, was the embarrassing effort by dozens of Republican state officials as well as GOP members of Congress who supported Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s ridiculous lawsuit to get the Supreme Court to overturn the results of an election without any credible evidence of fraud or wrongdoing. It was an example of cynical partisanship at its most corrosive and the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rightly rejected the suit.
That nonsense shouldn’t stop voters from carrying their eagerness for the ballot box into the new year and beyond. Our elected representatives are our voice on the great matters of war and peace and smaller ones about our parks and roads. Up and down the ticket from statewide officials to members of the school board, our votes have meaning regarding how Long Island develops, what gets built and how teaching happens, who stays and who goes. Our polity suffers when people tune out.
Even without big federal contests next year, there are important county and local elections that deserve Long Island’s attention. We hope voter turnout keeps increasing. Let’s preserve at least this portion of 2020.
— The editorial board