The South Bronx has a history of low voter turnout on Election Day, and this year was no different.
For all elections, primary and general, voter participation in the South Bronx lags significantly behind the rest of the city. Data from yesterday’s election shows that voter turnout in the South Bronx ranged from about 19-28%, down about 14.5% from 2018.
With spots open in Congress and various statewide offices and ballot proposals, the Bronx had a lot of issues to vote on. Despite this, the borough had a slow voting start, only making up 9.3% of the early voting turnout in the city (comparatively, Bronx residents make up about 16% of New York City’s population). Election Day turnout throughout the Bronx mostly hovered around 15-20%.
NYC Votes, a division of the Campaign Finance Board, has been analyzing trends in voter turnout and identifying concerns that are highlighted by the South Bronx. It created a voting participation score, which equals the number of elections a person voted in divided by the number of elections a person was eligible to vote in. These figures are then used to calculate borough averages.
For Bronx Community Districts 1 and 2, the average score was 19.3 out of 100 in 2018, compared to a borough-wide average of 23.9, and lagging significantly behind the citywide average of 28.4.
WHY IS LOCAL TURNOUT SO LOW?
LaKisha Walker, a childcare worker from the South Bronx, said she believes lower voter turnouts in her community are due to skepticism.
“They’re not really sure about the individuals running. Or they feel like the person I voted for last time, they were gonna do something and nothing happened,” Walker said.
Ingrid Brown, a school bus monitor, suspected the same.
“I’m thinking maybe it’s a lack of trust in the government like things that the government promised during the time of when they were first nominated,” she said. “Most of them didn’t really come through with what they said they were going to give to the people, so most people are not comfortable voting, thinking that they’re not getting what they voted for.”
NEW POLLING SITES, MORE HASSLES
Another factor in low voter turnout may be changes to polling sites. With recent redistricting, many voting locations have changed, catching some residents off guard.
Eddy Corbett, a Vietnam war veteran and NYCHA resident, found out last minute that his polling site had changed. He couldn’t vote at a site just next door. “I’m just upset because they changed my voting place to way over there. We were 66 in election district 79 and then they changed it to 52. I live right here, why I gotta go all the way there to vote?”
Some residents also find it hard to fit voting into their schedule. “Depending on what neighborhood you’re in, most people don’t have the flexibility to and the ability on a weekday to go vote,” said Alena Yang, a 30-year-old hospital administrator. Yang’s employer gave her the morning off to vote.
Yang lives in the South Bronx now but previously lived in Queens, where she said the lines were a lot longer.
“I was kind of shocked how empty it was,” she said of the Mitchel Community Center on E. 138th Street where she cast her ballot this year.
At the poll site at Gompers High School in Mott Haven, voting went without a hitch and without complaints, according to one supervisor, Sonia Taylor. There was a healthy turnout of Latino voters,Taylor added , some of whom got an assist from a Spanish language interpreter. According to official data, 48% of the voters in the Bronx are Latino/as.
One poll worker, Ana Rivera, said that although voting went smoothly in general, many immigrants who haven’t adjusted their immigration status have not been able to exercise their right to vote.
The fact that some voting site locations may have confused some elderly and disabled voters who were used to voting in the same place for years, she said.
“They say, ‘Well, you don’t want my vote. I’m leaving,'” Rivera said.
GETTING OUT THE LATINX AND YOUTH VOTES
Across the city, districts with large populations of Latino and foreign-born residents have had lower participation rates. The South Bronx population is about 68% Latino. Accessibility barriers and lack of trust may be hindering voter turnout.
Leycy Jimenez, originally from the Dominican Republic, said she knows “many friends” who chose not to vote in this election because they simply don’t trust elected officials. “There’s unrest because of immigration. One thing was said [promised] and they haven’t done those things to help immigrants a little.”
South Bronx resident Lovigilda Vargas agreed: “Many people don’t want to vote because they say the governors are not doing anything.”
The 2018 report by NYC Votes also detailed concerns about young voters under the age of 30, stating that “the median age of the average primary and general election voter is older than the median age of registered voters; this means that younger voters are registered but are not turning out.” Their data showed that for the 2018 general election, youth voter turnout was only around 27% in Community Districts 1 and 2.
College student and Bronx native Isaac Polanco has never voted and doesn’t plan to vote in this election. Though he admitted he doesn’t know who the candidates are, he is certain they are indifferent to constituents’ concerns. “I just don’t really care to vote because the politicians don’t care to really make a change. If I saw someone who would follow up on their promises, then I would be more motivated to vote.”
One first-time voter, Brianna Rodriguez, said it is common for young minority voters to feel discouraged from voting, but she’s hoping that will change.
“You feel like your voice isn’t heard, but what people don’t realize is that it really does matter,” she said. “You are a mix of the population, so if you don’t vote, you’re not contributing to the big society that makes the decisions.”
Impu Sehgal, Carla Colome, Mary Cunningham, Jonathan Pulla Valencia, Mrinalini Nayak, Ashley Reed, Anacaona Rodriguez Martinez, and Eduardo Salazar Uribe contributed to the reporting of this story. Editing by Caithlin Pena.