Voter registration made a big difference in 2023 election

Voter registration made a big difference Tuesday

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The dust is settling from Election Day. Democrats won the race for Monroe County executive, the majority in the county Legislature and the Irondequoit town supervisor — and nearly won the state Supreme Court with a placeholder candidate who doesn’t live here and didn’t campaign.

The Democratic candidate was from Long Island and, as far as we can tell, never set foot in the district. But 100,000 people voted for her.

When News10NBC chief investigative reporter Berkeley Brean tried to understand how the upset of all upsets happened, he was pointed to voter registration.

Twenty years ago, in 2003, when Republicans controlled just about everything in the county, Republicans and Democrats were basically tied. Each had 143,000 registered voters not affiliated with any party. They’re called blanks.

Fast-forward to 2023. Democrats have more than 200,000 voters. Republicans dropped to 123,000, and there are now 147,000 blanks.

“Basically, a 50,000 increase. That is a remarkable shift, because it effectively makes the Republican Party third place. Not only do they have to capture their base, they have to capture independents,” said retired political science professor Jim Bowers.

Adam Bello won the county executive race by 30,000 votes, which would be unheard of 20 years ago.

Shortly after Margot Garant got on the ballot for town supervisor in Brookhaven, Long Island, she suffered a stroke and it ended her campaign. But there are only three ways to remove a person’s name from a ballot: They must either die, move out of state, or get their name on a different ballot.

At the time, the Democratic line for state Supreme Court judge in Rochester was empty. So to get a new candidate in Brookhaven, Margot Garant’s name was placed here. But Tuesday night, she came within 7,000 votes of joining other Democrats with a win.

Bowers says voters look for cues.

Berkeley Brean: I think it just strikes our viewers as odd that a placeholder candidate who doesn’t live here, who wasn’t a legitimate candidate, who didn’t campaign could come this close to winning.

Jim Bowers, political science professor (retired): Well, some of your viewers are responsible for that. Your viewers are also voters. … So you go in, you’re told here are your Supreme Court justice candidates, vote for X number, and you don’t recognize the names but you just voted for your Adam Bello, you just voted for your Democratic representative — or if you’re driven by gender you went through and voted for, let’s say, more women candidates to help that balance — and boom! Voting cues.”

The State Supreme Court district in question is based in Rochester but includes eight counties. And when they were all added up Wednesday, Republicans Alex Renzi and Joe Waldorf won. Garant came in second in Monroe County. She has declined every offer News10NBC has made to talk. Her replacement in Brookhaven lost the election.