Suffolk Closeup: Election post mortem in the county

Despite Democratic Party enrollment gains in Suffolk County — and Democrats now having an edge in enrollment here — many Republican candidates did well in last week’s election in Suffolk.

According to the figures of the New York State Board of Elections, out of 1,124,295 registered voters in Suffolk, party enrollment as of November 1, 2020 was Democratic 390,128 and Republican 347,250.

Compare that to 20 years ago. The board listed, as of November 1, 2000, 332,433 Democratic and 341,426 Republicans. Registered voters then totaled 873,074

(Regarding wording, my first newspaper editor in Suffolk, John A. Maher, when I started writing about politics here as a reporter back in 1962, emphasized that people “enroll” in a political party but “register” to vote. The words enroll or enrollment and register or registration are not interchangeable, he stressed. But this distinction has eroded and these days the words are often used interchangeably.)

Well beyond nomenclature has come the flip between the Democratic and Republican parties as to which has the most enrolled voters. The Democratic increase in Suffolk over the past 20 years: 57,695.

Meanwhile, the Working Families Party, only established in 1998, now has 4,176 Suffolk voters enrolled in it, and often endorses Democratic candidates. Other election factors: the Conservative Party has 22,729 members (about the same as the 22,420 it had in 2000) and GOP candidates often also run on the Conservative line. The Independence Party has 46,437 members in Suffolk now, up from 16,699 20 years ago. And there is a whopping number of what the state board lists as “Blank” or unaffiliated voters in Suffolk now: 308.974, a rise from 251,543 in 2000. These can easily be a “swing” factor in Suffolk County elections.

With most enrollees Democrats, does this give Democratic candidates in Suffolk an advantage? Don’t tell that to the Democratic candidates here who lost last week.

Clear-cut Republican victories include, in the lst Congressional District, three-term GOP incumbent Lee Zeldin defeating Democrat Nancy Goroff of Stony Brook. Also, Republican Anthony Palumbo of New Suffolk beat Democrat Laura Ahearn of Port Jefferson to fill the 6th District State Senate seat of retiring Republican Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson. And, in the 2nd State Assembly race for the seat now held by Mr. Palumbo, former Riverhead Town Board member Jodi Giglio of Baiting Hollow won over Democrat Laura M. Jens-Smith of Laurel. (Ms. Jens-Smith in 2017 became the first woman to be elected supervisor of Riverhead in its 226-year history.)

And there could be more GOP wins. As of this writing, among Democrats listed by the Suffolk County Board of Elections as also losing are former Babylon Town board member Jackie Gordon of Copiague in the 2nd Congressional District; 14-termer Steven Englebright of Setauket, chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, in the 4th Assembly District; and James Gaughran of Northport, former chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority, in the 5th Senatorial District.

But this is before the county Board of Elections counts all absentee ballots. This wasn’t done the evening of Election Day along with the votes cast that day. The tabulation of absentee ballots, board officials have said, would only begin this week. There have been more than 140,000 absentee ballots cast in Suffolk this year, most due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing people to stay away from polling places to vote.

Most, according to the board, have come from voters enrolled as Democrats. The Suffolk Democratic leadership is confident that when these absentee ballots are counted, it will reverse the losing Democratic margins in many races. The Suffolk GOP leadership believes otherwise.

Also, in a clear-cut outcome, a majority of Suffolk voters said no to a ballot proposition that would have extended the terms of the 18 Suffolk County legislators from two to four years. A resolution passed by the legislature that facilitated the ballot proposition declared that the two-year term “impedes a legislator’s ability to adequately represent his or her constituents, especially when campaigning for re-election requires several months out of his or her second year in office.”

And in Riverhead Town, a proposal to extend the town supervisor’s term from two to four years also was voted down.