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9 things about the 2022 Midterm Elections ahead of Election Day

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The 2022 Midterm Elections are approaching quickly on Tuesday. On the latest episode of Syracuse Speaks, WAER's Tarryn Mento and Katie Zilcosky examine a few local races in Central New York and break down what voters in Onondaga County need to know ahead of Election Day.

A group of experts joined us for this episode to discuss the various races and impacts of the midterms:

  • Keith Bybee, Syracuse University College of Law Vice Dean and Professor
  • Shana Gadarian, Syracuse University Political Science Department Chair
  • Chris Faricy, a Syracuse University Political Science Associate Professor

Here's some of what we learned:
1. There's a familiar name in the race for Onondaga County Sheriff's
In the Onondaga County Sheriff race, Democrat Toby Shelley is running for sheriff again. The 2022 election marks the fourth time Shelley is running for sheriff over the last 12 years.

“Do I look like a politician?” Shelley said. “You think I kiss babies? I’m just trying to be sheriff.”

In 2014, against current Onondaga County Sheriff Eugene Conway, Shelley made waves by earning about 45% of the vote.

2. Shelley’s opponent is outlining a distinction in the race.
On the other side of the sheriff race, Republican Esteban Gonzalez is running for the position. While Shelley has criticized Gonzalez for never serving as a police officer, Gonzalez said there are key differences between being Onondaga County Sheriff and being a cop.

“A sheriff is not pushing a patrol car, which is what a cop does,” Gonzalez said. “A sheriff is a top administrator of a large department. The police department is ⅓ of the sheriff’s office. A lot of people don’t realize that.”

Despite not agreeing on all the roles and responsibilities of the Onondaga County Sheriff, both Shelley and Gonzalez agreed the recruiting of law enforcement officers needs to be improved.

3. Judges are on the ballot this year.
At the State Supreme Court, and County and Family Court levels, judges are voted in. The midterm election this year will demonstrate this.

“In most of our states, most of our judges have to, at one point or another, stand for election,” Syracuse University College of Law Vice Dean and Professor Keith Bybee said. “And this process of selecting state and local judges through election is an old one in the United States.”

Bybee said the reforms enacted to vote judges in were originally established to disrupt the close connections between the political parties and the bench.

Where it gets a bit murky is when voters look at their ballots, they see judges are listed with a party affiliation. Bybee said the process of judges being listed with a party affiliation can put some candidates in a fraught position.

“They are participating in a political process, but as they participate in that political process, they’re asking voters to support them not on the basis of the judicial candidates, political ideology, but rather on the basis of the judicial candidate’s commitment to impartiality,” Bybee said.

4. The new redistricting process is visible in this year’s elections.
Under the new redistricting process in Central New York, the 24th District was recently reworked to the 22nd District. The 24th District was previously held by U.S. Rep. John Katko (R), but since Katko is not running in 2022, Democrat Francis Conole and Republican Brandon Williams are vying for the open congressional seat.

“With new lines being drawn, it injects a lot of uncertainty into the race,” Syracuse University Political Science Associate Professor Chris Faricy said. “With Katko not being on the ballot, we have two new candidates who have to introduce themselves to the voters of Central New York.”

For both Conole and Williams, new voting lines mean introductions to new voters.

The 22nd Congressional District isn’t the only race in Central New York where recent redistricting is evident. In the 48th State Senate District race, which covers the entire city of Syracuse, the towns south of the city, the village of Skaneateles, Baldwinsville, and parts of Cayuga County, Democrat Rachel May is running. May used to represent the 53rd District, before state reapportionment this year.

5. Negative political advertisements are powerful.
Syracuse University Political Science Department Chair Shana Gadarian believes as candidates introduce themselves to potential voters, they also make an effort to tie themselves to the popular themes of their parties. One way to do this is with negative ads tying political opponents to issues that are politically significant.

“What we know about negative ads is they tend to have more information in them, so people can learn a lot about them, and they’re more memorable to voters,” Gadarian said. “While a lot of voters say they don’t like them, they’re actually pretty powerful in making connections for people.”

Despite apparent unpopularity among voters, negative ads seem to be effective tools.

6. One concern remains constant in the minds of voters.
Election after election after election, voters have frequently cited the economy as something they consider when casting ballots. According to Gadarian, the economy can be a top of mind issue for a lot of voters because it’s very easy to see.

“Gas prices are higher than they were, food prices are higher than they were, and while the employment situation is much better than it was during the pandemic, I think there’s still some uncertainty … about a potential recession,” Gadarian said.

7. The spotlight is on education in a certain race.
In the 50th State Senate District Race, Democrat Incumbent John Mannion is up against Republican Rebecca Shiroff. Considering both candidates have previous experience in the education sector, education is being discussed as a prominent issue in this specific race. Gadarian said education can be an important topic, but it might not be top of mind this year.

“I think when you have in the kind of race where you have people who are involved with education, education can be an issue, but it usually doesn’t come before economic issues,” Gadarian said. “It’s not that education doesn’t matter and it’s being talked about, but it’s usually not a top issue when we’re talking about higher level kinds of races.”

8. Incumbency is important in the political realm.
This year, plenty of names on the ballot are incumbents trying to maintain their political positions. Gadarian said it’s difficult to overstate the importance of incumbency and the advantages that come with being an incumbent candidate.

“I just want to jump in to remind voters how important incumbency is,” Gadarian said. “Incumbents who run for re-election win at extremely high rates, and we’re talking about over 90%.”

While Gadarian said incumbents don’t always win, the name recognition that comes with being an incumbent can give certain candidates a serious advantage with voters on election day.

“We’re already talking about pretty motivated people, but they may not know about every single race,” Gadarian said.

Echoing Gadarian’s points about incumbency, Faricy said exterior factors can help overpower incumbency.

“There is power in incumbency, and one thing that might be able to overcome it are national trends,” Faricy said. “So as voters move down the ballot, they have opinions about who is running for governor, they probably have opinions about the congressional district, but as you get to state senate and state assembly, there’s less knowledge about the candidates and even the issues involved. So a voter might rely on their own partisanship.”

Both Gadarian and Faricy agreed structural campaign advantages, getting feet on the ground, and targeting people who show up to vote can help incumbents trying to maintain office.

9. Voter turnout could be surprising this year.
As previous elections have demonstrated, voter turnout can be quite difficult to predict. Faricy said a recent increase in national voter turnout could impact turnout for this year’s elections.

“So the elections recently have bucked the trends of lower turnout over really a 50-year period in American history,” Faricy said. “Since 2018, 2020, there’s been an uptick in the amount of people voting, so I would expect there to be higher than normal midterm turnout, but the problem is, and this is the problem you get with trying to poll elections, you’re not quite sure who shows up.”

Gadarian believes recent moves to make it easier for people to vote could increase voter turnout this year, but too much emphasis should not be placed on the primary turnout from earlier this year.

“Primaries are not a great indication of what we’ll see in a general election because remember, at least in New York State, you can only vote if you’re registered with a party,” Gadarian said. “They’re [primary elections] in the summer, they’re not very well advertised, and so we get very low voter turnout with primaries.”

In-person voting begins at 9 locations in Onondaga County on Oct. 29. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Further information on polling locations can be found at
https://waer.org/election2022.

Matt Fairfax is an undergraduate student studying Broadcast & Digital Journalism at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May 2023.