NYS Comptroller: 2020-2021 school budget voter participation increased more than 300% statewide

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- The state told New York school districts their budget votes would have to be conducted entirely by mail-in ballot. It appears to have been a successful way to increase participation, according to a report released by the New York State Comptroller’s Office.

Three times the number of New Yorkers participated in 2020-2021 school budget votes compared to the previous five school budget votes. Some districts like Rensselaer City saw participation increase over 500%.

School budget vote participation by region

  • Capital District +172.9%
  • Central New York +230.8%
  • Finger Lakes +234.8%
  • Long Island +184.3%
  • Mid-Hudson +186.9%
  • Mohawk Valley +149%
  • North Country +225.7%
  • Southern Tier +185.4%
  • Western New York +304.7%

In recent years, participation in school budget votes had been declining, particularly since the
implementation of the tax cap. This general trend was reversed for the pandemic-disrupted 2020-21 school budget vote, which was conducted entirely by absentee ballot. This new process likely contributed to an increase in participation: triple the number of votes were cast compared to the prior year, with a slightly higher percentage of votes cast against the budgets.

The New York State Comptroller’s Office
Division of Local Government and School Accountability

The top two school districts that saw the greatest increase in school budget votes were the Kiryas Joel Union Free School District (population 20,743) in Orange County with 2152% and the Victor Central School District (population 23,125) in Ontario County with 1013%.

The increase in voter participation did not affect the overall approval percentage of budgets. Twelve school budgets were defeated this year, compared to 11 budgets that were defeated last year.

There was a 4% percent decrease in support statewide from last year’s vote. It equated to approximately a 4.2% decrease in the Capital District. Western New York saw the highest decrease in support for school budgets, 8.5%. Support in the North Country had the second-highest decrease, 5.7%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions about how to conduct civic responsibilities in a safe, yet still transparent and equitable manner. The Executive Orders relating to allowing people to vote from home presented new challenges. School districts were guided by their existing absentee ballot processes, election law, executive orders, procedural guidance issued by school district associations, and their own legal counsel. Schools had to quickly mail ballots to every qualified voter and receive and count those ballots in a safe, transparent, and secure manner. Continued attention to issues of voting integrity is essential to promote public
confidence in the school budget voting process and to improve voter participation.

The New York State Comptroller’s Office
Division of Local Government and School Accountability

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