President Barack Obama won reelection Tuesday night, capturing the Electoral College through a broad coalition of states that included the entire Northeast, mid-Atlantic and West Coast, and crucial battleground states in the Rocky Mountains and the Midwest manufacturing belt. Down the ticket, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Daniel Squadron, and Assemblyman Joe Lentol, all Democrats, were all re-elected. None of the races were competitive.
In contrast to swing states like Ohio and Florida, it was a statistical lock that New York State would vote Democratic blue, having done so reliably in every presidential election since 1988. By the time the major networks projected New York to go for Obama at 9 PM Tuesday it was a mere formality, and there was only a smattering of polite applause at Greenpoint Avenue’s Red Star Bar, where local political junkies had gathered to watch the polls close.
“For all we know, that clapping could have been for a touchdown in a football game [on another screen],” said Michael Medel, an art gallery manager. Medel has lived in the neighborhood since 2008, and remembered watching the election results come in four years ago. To him, the feeling of anticipation was very familiar.
So was the result. According to the exit polls taken by the Greenpoint Gazette, Obama won 85% of the neighborhood to Romney’s 10%. These numbers closely compare to the 2008 election in which the President received over 80% of the Greenpoint vote and 79.3% overall in New York City.
With Election Day coming just a week after Hurricane Sandy slammed the eastern seaboard, political pundits predicted an array of after-effects on the election, ranging from increased enthusiasm for Obama, to closed polling sites that would launch a ripple effect of logistical hiccups throughout the city and suppress turnout. But in Greenpoint, fears were unfounded and polling sites were fully functional. In our exit polls, when voters were asked if the hurricane had any impact on whom they were voting for, an overwhelming 98% answered “no”.
Maybe that’s because, according to Maloney, New York is currently a “tale of three cities: there’s the city that lost power, the city that didn’t, and the city that lost their homes.” Greenpoint is mostly in the second category; while the neighborhood had flooding in some of its northern end by the Pulaski Bridge, when compared to lower Manhattan or the Rockaways, the Garden Spot seems to dodge a bullet.
Sandy also did not stop Greenpoint’s elected officials from urging their constituents to do their civic duty. New District Leader Chris Olechowski argued for the symbolic value in voting, as he stood alongside Maloney outside the Polish and Slavic Center on Kent Street, one of several polling sites in the neighborhood. “Every vote should be counted,” he said. “Your vote is your way to be a stakeholder in this system. If you have this right, you should use it.” Olechowski should know; he won his position by a mere 19 votes in a tightly contested race against incumbent Lincoln Restler this September.
Given the winner-take-all nature of the Electoral College, some voters wondered if the system wouldn’t better serve the nation if each vote counted equally, rather than having an Ohio or a Florida become the center of our country’s electoral universe every four years. But Maloney rejects the idea of switching to a direct popular vote. “The Electoral College was made to make sure that big states and small states each get fair representation,” she said. “It might not be perfect, but it’s the best we have right now.”
Other than long lines at some neighborhood polling sites, Election Day in Greenpoint seemed to go smoothly. There were hiccups, however, such as when Maureen Bowler, an India Street resident, had a mix-up and was redirected from a polling station at the Pete McGuinness Senior Center on Leonard Street to the Polish and Slavic Center. “This is voter fraud,” Bowler said, visibly agitated as she left the first site. “It has to be. They should be ashamed of themselves. Ashamed!”
In all likelihood, the poll site flub was an honest mistake. Criminal efforts aimed at disenfranchising voters usually happen in districts, cities, or states with tightly contested races and razor-thin margins. In an election where individual votes seem inconsequential, there’s no reason for fraud. And on Tuesday, there wasn’t a single competitive race in Greenpoint, from the top of the ticket to the bottom. While the neighborhood’s registered Democrats can rejoice in their party’s sweep, the popular vote – Democrat and Republican – was effectively thrown away, because electoral politics have made Greenpoint and indeed this entire state irrelevant to the national math for over thirty years. Maybe that’s the real shame.
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