Mary Ann Basile, 72, cast her ballot at the Harlem Road Community Center in Amherst Friday afternoon, four days before Election Day.
“I just thought it would be more convenient to come today than on Tuesday,” she said. “It’s too crowded on Tuesday. It’s nice to be able to come at your own convenience.”
Basile and other senior citizens took advantage of the convenience of New York state’s early voting more than any other age group in Erie County.
More than half of Erie County residents who voted early as of Friday morning were 65 and over. They accounted for 59% of the county’s more than 17,000 early voters. Nearly 90% of the county’s early voters were 50 and over.
This wasn’t surprising to the Erie County Board of Elections.
“We’ve noticed that the population of 50 and over generally do come out to vote and are the highest voting percentage of all age groups within the county,” said Ralph Mohr, Erie County Republican elections commissioner.
Americans 60 and older have had the highest voter turnout rate for decades, according to the United States Election Project. More than 70% of Americans over 65 voted in the last presidential election, the highest percentage rate of any age group.
But older residents accounted for more of Erie County’s early voters than even the Board of Elections was expecting. The 65-and-over-crowd, while accounting for 59% of early voters this year, accounted for only 23% of all voters on Election Day last year.
Mohr said that might be because the county placed many of its 37 early voting locations at senior and community centers.
“Seniors come to the community center, have their lunch and the voting machine is right there, like, ‘Hey, lets go vote,’” he said, adding he expects more younger voters once voting locations spread out to more than 400 locations on Election Day.
Most states that have enacted early voting in recent years have actually seen an increase in younger voters, said Harvey Palmer, a University at Buffalo political science professor. The Millennial voter turnout rate nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, Palmer added it’s still unclear whether this has more to do with early voting or President Donald Trump.
“We don’t really know which of those is really driving it,” he said. “It may just be the effect of Trump and the reaction to that is bigger among younger people and so that’s why these states that have adopted early voting are seeing bigger surges in voting turnout among younger people.”
Despite that recent surge in younger voters, Palmer noted older voters still have a sizeable lead in turnout rate.
“You’d need another three or four more elections like that before there was no age difference,” he said.
There’s several reasons older Americans come out to the polls more than younger ones, but the biggest reason may simply be they’re retired.
“Older people just have more free time,” Palmer said. “The opportunity cost for them to go to the polls rather than running errands or being at work is lower.”
That was the case for Basile. While she said voting has always been important to her, it’s also easier to vote now that’s she’s semi-retired.
“A lot of people when they get home from work, they’re getting home at five, six o’clock,” she said. “By the time they do dinner, they don’t want to have to go back out again.”
There’s also belief that Americans have more of a civic sense of duty as they get older, Palmer added.
That’s what brought Kathleen Garvey to the Kenmore-Tonawanda Municipal Building for early voting Thursday. The 68-year-old elder law attorney served 13 years in the U.S. Army.
“People died so we have the right to vote,” she said. “It’s very important.”
It’s also believed that older Americans are more concerned over issues like property taxes, giving them more interest in local races.
“For one thing, we’re paying taxes and have a little more vested in the whole process of what’s going on,” said Susan Blum, 66, of Amherst, who voted Friday. “Things start at a local level.”
Their anxieties might also be pushing them to the polls. Several seniors at early voting locations told WBFO they’re worried about the future of Social Security and other protections.
“The cost of living has skyrocketed and our paychecks — you’re on a fixed income now — and they don’t go up,” Basile said.