School districts on North Shore see sharp rise in voter turnout

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Voter turnout throughout the North Shore in board of education elections and budget votes saw a noticeable uptick this year. (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

A flood of ballots poured in for school elections on the North Shore this year – at least compared with recent years.

With residents casting absentee ballots for school board seats and on proposed budgets from the comfort of home due to the coronavirus pandemic, the vote total was higher than the past two years combined.

The elections for school boards on June 16 saw incumbents retain their seats and 2020-21 school district budgets pass despite complications from the pandemic. 

In virtually every school district on the North Shore, budget and school board votes far surpassed those in previous years.  Every budget increased from the previous year.

The school districts included in these figures are Great Neck, Roslyn, Manhasset, Port Washington, Sewanhaka, New Hyde Park-Garden City Park, Floral Park-Bellerose, East Williston, Herricks, Mineola and North Shore. The figures were provided by the school districts.

Craig Burnett, an associate professor of political science at Hofstra University, said the increase in voter turnout can be attributed to the convenience of submitting absentee ballots rather than physically going to a polling location.

“People enjoy having the ballot sent to them and being able to fill it out on their couch whenever they want to and mail it back in,” Burnett said in a phone interview. “We are a nation that thrives on convenience, and this election turnout certainly proved that.”

The Herricks and Mineola school districts saw the highest increases in voter turnout this year compared with the three previous years.

In Herricks, a total of 8,997 votes were cast for the budget and school board elections from 2017 to 2019.  In 2020’s budget vote, 9,024 votes were cast.  An additional 4,924 votes cast in the 2020 school board election were 767 more than the previous three elections combined.  An average of 1,613 votes were cast for the budget from 2017 to 2019.  The 9,024 budget votes cast in 2020 are more than five times that average.

A total of five uncontested races for trustee positions on Mineola’s Board of Education took place from 2017 to 2019.  In those five elections, 2,751 votes were cast, an average of 917 per year.  In 2020, 3,756 votes were cast for two uncontested races, 1,005 more than the previous three years combined, and more than six times the average over the three previous years.

In Roslyn, a total of 5,786 votes for the budget and elections were cast from 2017 to 2019.  In 2020, 6,532 votes were cast.  All of the races were uncontested and all of the budgets were adopted throughout the four years. From 2017-19, an average of 687 votes were cast for the budget each year.  In 2020, 2,486 votes were cast for the budget, more than 3.5 times as many as the average over the previous three years.

From 2017 to 2019, a total of 12,229 votes were cast for the Sewanhaka school district’s budget compared with 12,405 in 2020.  Sewanhaka school district residents do not vote for trustees.  Instead, the Elmont, Floral Park-Bellerose, Franklin Square and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park districts each appoint two trustees to the Sewanhaka board.

In East Williston, a total of 2,916 votes were cast for the budget and Board of Education races from 2017 to 2019.  In 2020, the 3,406 budget votes surpassed that total.  An additional 1,967 votes for two board races, one of which was contested, amounted to 703 more than the three previous elections combined.

The Port Washington, Manhasset and Great Neck school districts, which typically receive the most ballots for school board election and budget votes on the North Shore, also saw increases, but not as drastic as in other areas.

The 2017-18 budget vote and Board of Education election in Great Neck was the only year that surpassed the totals for this year’s ballots.  The election featured the same two candidates, Jeffrey Shi and Rebecca Sassouni, winning their first elections. A total of 8,379 votes were submitted in the Board of Education election in 2017 compared with the 5,603 submitted this year. Almost 5,000 more votes were cast in 2017 on the budget than this year’s 9,250.

Burnett said there is a possibility that the model of school districts sending out absentee ballots to everyone in the district becomes a norm.

“This model could absolutely be a benchmark going forward since it seems so many people like and prefer this model,” he said.

Burnett said it remains to be seen whether the state ultimately adopts this model for primary and general political elections, and noted potential obstacles and differences between those and the school board elections.

“The school board elections are the most hyperlocal thing anyone can vote in,” he said. “When it comes to those other elections, you have to take into account how many more people are voting in a county, state or national election and how long it would take to count all of those ballots.”

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