According to the U.S. Census, in the 2010 elections, about 38% of New Yorkers voted. In a poll of people who didn't vote, nearly 27% of respondents said they were "too busy." In downtown Syracuse, local residents are working to improve voter turnout rates through a series of educational workshops.
Syracuse resident Donna Reese has difficulty with her eyesight, making the small bubbles on a voting ballot almost impossible to see. But it hasn't kept her from voting in every election.
“If all you do is sit and complain, sit and look in mirror about why our neighborhoods are the way that they are,” said Reese. “If we're not making difference by going to polls and letting people that know we care enough to go and vote and make a difference and choose our leaders that take care of our community, then you're part of the problem.”
Donna is taking part in a voter's education series on the south side, organized by the local chapters of the NAACP and Delta Sigma Theta sorority alumnae. DST member Theresa Harper says the monthly workshops aim to inform residents of their voting rights and current local issues.
“I don’t know if people actually realize that they’re eligible to vote, that it is a right that you have,” said Harper. “And one of the pieces is that people who have been incarcerated don’t know that they have the right to vote.”
Barrie Gewanter has worked with the New York Civil Liberties Union in a number of voter registration efforts.
“Four years ago, when we were in the run up to the last Presidential election, I spent a couple of days at the bus transfer station downtown,” said Gewanter. “I would go up to people and ask if they were registered to vote. I can tell you at least 4 or 5 out of every 10 people would say ‘I can’t. I’ve got a felony conviction.’ I would ask if they were still on parole. They would say ‘no’ and I would say ‘Well then you can vote.”
It's not just that people don't know they can vote. Some just don't seem to care anymore. Theresa Harper calls it “voter apathy.”
“People don’t seem to understand the significance in voting in every election,” said Harper. ”It’s not just Presidential elections, but it’s the local elections is where the power is.”
Syracuse Common Councilor Khalid Bey says he became involved in local politics because he felt it was the best way to improve his community.
“People say ‘why bother?’,” said Bey. “Certainly in the African-American community, and probably other, is people ultimately find their own way to make things happen. They come up with their own method for surviving. And it doesn’t involve politics.”
Bey says that minorities are still under represented in local politics, both in terms of elected officials and those candidate’s priorities. He attributes this to low voter turnout.
“The importance of participating can't be stressed enough,” says Bey. The people have to turn out in the south side and stand up and vote. Politics, whether people know it or not is personal and if you want to improve your condition, you have to get out and vote.”