It is believed that the more informed you are about your civic duty the less you give politicians opportunity to cheat you and your community. This is, perhaps, why in response to Robert Press, a political journalist in New York City, a popular NYC politician said: “If we educate this people (i.e. the NY voters) about their civic duties, they may not vote for us again.” Based on this established assertion among some New York politicians, can one suitably say that most New Yorkers, particularly the Bronxites, usually don’t get actively engaged in core political activities like voting on election day?
According to the Board of Election in the City of New York, compared to last year February, the number of registered voter in the Bronx alone as of February 21, 2021 has increased from 839, 176 to 872, 925 with a major rise in the number of active voter. Unfortunately, as of June 17 2021, the 6th day of early voting for the primary election in NYC, only 12,241 Bronxites had voted. And this accounted for just only 1.4% of the total number of registered voters in the Bronx.
Can we therefore say that, with the increase in the number of registered voters in the county, the Bronxites are gradually getting engaged in civic duties? Or with the unparalleled outlook the turn out so far and the number of registered voters, is it ideal to conclude that something political is wrong with the Bronx? If yes, who and what could have been the cause of this political palaver?
To vividly respond to some of these questions, I decided to go on a fact-finding mission in the Bronx. Hence, in a series of interviews, I managed to engage numerous residents of the Bronx from different socio-economic background.
When asked what the general turn of electorates in the Bronx in this year’s election, Verena C. Powell, a candidate for Bronx Civil Court Judge who of course has been regularly monitoring how early voting has been going on in the county noted, “Voter turnout this election cycle has been low.
Dion Powell, County Committeeman of the Bronx 79th Assembly and founder of the New York Free Thinking Democrats, also added that election this year in the Bronx has been going steadily, considering the fact that most of the eligible residents of the county have not shown up at their individual polling station. He blamed politicians and campaign managers for not doing enough in sensitizing the residents.
And in an attempt to give reasons for the low turn, Verena C. Powel said, “Although most people like the idea of being allowed to select multiple candidates, the number of candidates in this year’s election makes the decision very difficult. Also, the lack of a common opponent is one reason for the low turnout. Another reason is that many voters said they were not thrilled with any of the candidates.”
Robert Jackson, a popular community leader and organizer in Harlem, who also admitted that the election turnout in this Bronx so far in this year’s election is extremely low, sums this up by saying: “My years of experience in civic activities have shown me that the general turnout for local elections in the Bronx is always low due to that fact that most of the residents don’t know the candidates, and they are unaware of the power they hold in local politics. In addition, over 95% of the youth in the county are not civically engaged at all, and a lot of people don’t vote because they have work and religious reasons as well.”
Considering the fact that the youth who occupy more than 55% of the Bronx population are mostly sidelined by majority of the county’s public office holder, one can deduce the main reason why election turnout in the county is usually low.
Hence to buttress this, some of these Bronx residents were asked to identify the category of people that usually come out to vote in the Bronx and which category do not, and Mrs Powell, the Civil Court Judge candidate, responded thus: “It is my understanding that women and older people vote in primary elections as opposed to younger men and women. Younger voters may not appreciate the importance of exercising their right to vote. Older people and women have a better understanding of the significance of the vote.”
As for Robert Jackson, “the seniors do vote a lot in the Bronx but the youth don’t vote at all because they lack civic education, which could be the reason for their lack of caring for their communities. Likewise, most Bronxites are quick to complain but they don’t want to get involved.”
Finally, when asked what could be done to increase the number of voters in the Bronx, 98% of the interviewees admonished government to put more effort in informing and educating residents of the county as they are the only ways to increase voters turn out and more civic engagement among the eligible residents.
“(The Bronx residents need) information and education. Civics needs to be taught in school and the Board of Elections must do a better job of informing the public of the role and responsibility of various public office holders,” Attorney Powell concluded.
“The community need to hold Public town hall with elected officials and get everyone involved, regardless of race, age and gender,” Robert Jackson added.
In conclusion, even though some might say that it is too early to jump to conclude on the general turn out of electorates this year using only a 6 days of early voting that just passed, it is imperative to establish here that the trend of voter turnout in the Bronx has had any significant change for the past 10 years; it is always at the bottom compared to other counties in NYC. More so, the reasons identified by the residents for the low turnout have always been the same reason for over a decade. Nothing much as changed. All in all, the Bronx politician and other community leader should change their mind-set and connect with the youth in order to build a better future for the county. Additionally, they should spend more on civic education and connect more with the electorate as these are the only ways to change the pathetic narrative.