Less than seven percent of eligible voters turned out for Buffalo’s Board of Education elections last month. Local advocates want to change that – and change the date of the elections. They called on the New York State Legislature to address the issue before the end of its session at a press conference on Tuesday.
"We pay $100,000 to have an election to have three to seven percent of our taxpayers participate in it. It’s a total waste of money," said Sam Radford III, president of the Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council.
Radford is part of the Change the Date Coalition, a group of local clergy, parents and community leaders. As its name suggests, the coalition wants to move Buffalo’s school board elections from May to November.
Kyria Stephens from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is another member of the group.
"The taxpayers really need to understand that this is about having a better Buffalo. It’s not just about a certain sector of people who have kids," Stephens said. "This is about the whole entire city."
The coalition argues that moving the elections will help boost voter turnout, lower costs, and generally strengthen the democratic process. Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore disagreed.
"What’s more important, to have the people that are out voting, which is the parents and the people who really care about education, be the ones to vote? Or have it just be part of a general election where people just happen to be out there?" Rumore said in a phone interview. "It’s not a question of quantity. It’s a question of the quality of the people that are going out to vote."
Coalition member Rev. Dr. William Gillison leads Mt. Olive Baptist Church on Buffalo’s East Side. He said it’s not an accident that voter turnout has been so historically low for school board elections.
"There’s a word that’s been used here lately – voter suppression. That’s it in its height."
There are two bills currently before the New York State Legislature that would move the elections. Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said she’s confident the Assembly will pass its version of the bill. However, the Senate would then also need to pass its bill before the end of session on June 19 for the change to go into effect.