With midterm elections less than two months away, local organizations are trying to get those in Syracuse who typically don’t vote to cast a ballot. September 25th is National Voter Registration day, and grassroots initiatives in Syracuse are leading efforts to increase voter turnout with the support of the Gifford Foundation.
Voter turnout was less than 25% in some parts of Syracuse in 2017. This year, Onondaga Votes is trying to get people to the polls. The group is made up of non-partisan organizations such as the NAACP and the League of Women Voters. Their work to increase civic engagement has earned them a grant from the Gifford Foundation.
Onondaga Votes' Chanel Turnquest says the funding will go towards removing voting obstacles such as transportation and childcare. The organization will offer free meals, rides, and child services at the Dunbar Center from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m on November 6th.
"It does hinder folks from going to the polls," said Turnquest. "And as we have been knocking on doors on the weekend, walking through District 2 and 5 and Ward 19, some of the other issues and obstacles that come up are the fact that people don't know who the candidates are. They don't know who is running."
Another challenge is getting people to care about local elections. In a Presidential election year, voter turnout nearly doubles according to the Onondaga County Board of Elections. More than half of registered voters cadst a ballot in 2016, but voter turn out fell below 30% in 2017 in the same areas. But Turnquest points out that it’s the local elections that often affect neighborhoods directly.
"A lot of people don't know why am I voting on a local level," said Turnquest. "How is my vote having an impact at the local level? That's why the midterm elections are so important. People don't understand that the local politicians are the ones that actually make a difference in your neighborhood. People are eager to vote for President, but you have to vote for your local politicians. They're the ones you go to that can make change in your neighborhood."
This is the first year Onondaga Votes is looking at why people don’t vote. Turnquest and her colleagues have been focusing on the Syracuse neighborhoods with the lowest voter turnout. She says there is no certain reason as to why District 2, District 5, and Ward 19 have so few voters, but answering that question is also part of the group’s goal.
"We'll be doing a survey at the end of this campaign to see how this works and getting a better understanding of why people aren't voting," said Turnquest. "This is the first initiative, and we want to see how successful it is to maybe do it on a bigger scale."
The last day to register to vote in the midterm election is October 12th. For more information on how to volunteer with Onondaga Votes and their election day services, you can call 315-396-8225. More information on National Voter Registration Day can be found here.