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NYC's changing electorate: 2015-2016

Posted April 24, 2016

Vanishing voters in Brooklyn mapped; larger issues raised

The news that the NYC Board of Elections removed — apparently incorrectly — many thousands of voters from its list of registered voters raises several issues.

The immediate issue is that the vanishing voters were disproportionately located in Brooklyn: more than 100,000 voters were removed from the voter roll in that borough alone.  Brooklyn did bear the greatest burden, as the map below illustrates. But while Brooklyn stands out, a closer look at the city's changing counts of voters raises other questions about how New York's electorate is measured.

Voter changes in Brooklyn and citywide
The Center for Urban Research compared the voter registration lists provided by the city's Board of Elections from March 2015 and March 2016 in order to map the change in registered voters by neighborhood. According to our analysis, 462,746 registered voters were removed from the roll citywide between March 2015 and 2016. During that period, 225,758 voters were added, resulting in a net loss of 236,988 registered voters.
 


      Bronx Brooklyn Manhattan Queens Staten Island NYC
Change in voter enrollment by borough, 2015-2016
Voters dropped b/w 2015 and 2016 60,917 206,366 110,970 71,248 13,245 462,746
New voters b/w 2015 and 2016 37,156 67,271 58,494 53,263 9,574 225,758
Net change -23,761 -139,095 -52,476 -17,985 -3,671 -236,988
Each borough's share of citywide change 10.0% 58.7% 22.1% 7.6% 1.5% 100%


The net change in Brooklyn during that period was slightly larger than the number reported in the media. According to CUR's analysis, the net loss of registered voters in Brooklyn from 2015 to 2016 was almost 140,000, representing almost 60% of the net loss of citywide voters.

The map below shows the distribution of this decrease by neighborhood.  Although the NYS statistics between November 2015 and April 2016 show slight increases in the other four boroughs and a decrease only in Brooklyn, the voter registration lists from New York City for 2015 and 2016 show decreases in all five boroughs.

The map reveals that these changes were uneven across the city. Citywide there was a net decrease of 5.7%. The lightest shade of purple on the map indicates the neighborhoods with a net loss of 5.7% or less: virtually every neighborhood in Queens, the Bronx, and on Staten Island. There were even increases in some neighborhoods in Queens and on Staten Island, shown in green on the map.

The two darker shades of purple indicate voter losses at a greater rate than the citywide average. Every neighborhood in Brooklyn had greater-than-average declines, and the areas shaded darkest purple — in northern and southern Brooklyn, and other neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, and Sunset Park — had a net loss of double the citywide rate, between 10 and 15% of their voters.

Click here for PDF version.
Click here for spreadsheet with data corresponding to NTAs labeled on map.

 

Changes in citywide voter counts
Voter statistics available from the New York State Board of Elections indicate that the list of registered voters in New York City fluctuates substantially and inconsistently, not only year to year but within the city borough to borough.

The chart and table below summarize the city's enrollment statistics year over year from the 2008 presidential year through 2016, showing wide variations from one year to the next, in Brooklyn and citywide.



Most years show a change within plus-or-minus 5%. But in 2013, the voter roll increased citywide (and in Brooklyn) by 11%. In that year (not shown below), Democratic enrollment in the Bronx increased by more than 12% while Democratic enrollment on Staten Island increased by less than 7%.

In the following year, the citywide voter roll fell by almost 3% while Brooklyn only decreased less than 1%.

Time period NYC total Change Pct change NYC   Brooklyn Change Pct change Brooklyn
April 2007 3,797,362       1,150,959    
March 2008 3,950,098 152,736 4.0%   1,197,184 46,225 4.0%
April 2009 4,219,471 269,373 6.8%   1,271,398 74,214 6.2%
April 2010 3,996,017 -223,454 -5.3%   1,212,830 -58,568 -4.6%
April 2011 4,012,364 16,347 0.4%   1,223,444 10,614 0.9%
April 2012 3,920,324 -92,040 -2.3%   1,197,232 -26,212 -2.1%
April 2013 4,352,113 431,789 11.0%   1,334,158 136,926 11.4%
April 2014 4,232,923 -119,190 -2.7%   1,332,059 -2,099 -0.2%
April 2015 4,060,817 -172,106 -4.1%   1,273,395 -58,664 -4.4%
April 2016 4,005,493 -55,324 -1.4%   1,186,533 -86,862 -6.8%
               
Source: NYS voter enrollment statistics from http://www.elections.ny.gov/EnrollmentCounty.html
as analyzed by Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center    


Perhaps these changes are simply due to a changing population. But the city's population, especially in Brooklyn, has been consistently increasing in recent years. And while it would be expected that the voter roll would grow in 2013 — an important municipal election year — voter turnout that year was at an all-time low: why would people register in greatly increased numbers but then not vote.  And why would the voter rolls in 2008 and 2012 not both increase, when voter turnout in those years was relatively high for two important presidential elections.

Population trends and election-year voter registration campaigns may explain some of the voter registration changes. But given the inconistent ups and downs, coupled with multi-faceted rules not only for voter registration but also for keeping the city's voter list up-to-date, the changes are also likely — and perhaps mainly — the result of bureaucratic processes and problems. 

Consistent voter enrollment lists and counts are critically important: voters need to know that they will be included in the voter roll so they can vote; election campaigns need valid information to reach out to voters; and the media, watchdog organizations, and researchers require consistent data to evaluate government systems and hold public agencies accountable. The recent investigations announced by New York's attorney general and the city's comptroller hopefully will uncover the reasons why voter counts in New York City have been changing inconsistently, and recommend improvements to managing the city's voter data.