Mysterious Precinct with Zero Residents and One Registered Voter Somehow Comes Up with More Than 250 Ballots
(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in an occasional series examining voting patterns in the recent Democratic Party primary election, which determined the nominee for the 65th Assembly District seat. Each installment in this series will look at a separate Lower Manhattan neighborhood. This installment focuses on Chinatown and Little Italy.)
In the recent primary election that determined the Democratic nominee for the Assembly seat representing the 65th District in Lower Manhattan, the combined neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little Italy exhibited strong ethnic identity voting and yielded results that contrast sharply with those of the catchment as a whole. Additionally, a single precinct, in which nobody appears to reside and only one voter is registered, nonetheless managed to record 258 ballots.
The September 13 primary race was won by Financial District resident Yuh-Line Niou with 2,790 votes throughout the district. She was followed by Battery Park City resident Jenifer Rajkumar, with 1,701 votes, and Lower East Side resident Paul Newell, who garnered 1,425 votes. The incumbent, Alice Cancel (who also lives on the Lower East Side), took 1,108 votes, while Battery Park City resident Don Lee won 995 votes. Gigi Li, the former chair of Community Board 3, received 844 votes.
The City’s Board of Elections calculates that there are slightly more than 43,000 registered Democrats in the 65th Assembly district, which means that overall turnout (with 8,880 votes cast) was just over 20 percent. In the Chinatown/Little Italy community, according to the State Board of Elections, there are 10,711 residents registered as Democrats and eligible to vote. Of these, 1,885 turned out for the September 13 primary, which translates into a local participation rate of 17.59 percent. This is marginally higher than the nearby Seaport/Civic Center’s rate of 16.4 percent and notably higher than the Financial District’s turnout rate of 9.7 percent, but smaller than Battery Park City’s participation, which came to 24.8 percent.
Chinatown and Little Italy are divided into 22 local precincts, also called election districts. This community voted strongly for the race’s overall winner, Ms. Niou, whose tally of 749 votes gave her 39.73 percent of the local vote, as opposed to the 31.41 percent of the vote she captured in the race overall. Apart from Ms. Niou’s first place finish, however, voters in Chinatown and Little Italy also rewarded two other Asian candidates with strong results they did not achieve elsewhere. Battery Park City resident Don Lee finished second in this community, with 381 votes (or 20.21 percent of the total local balloting), while Gigi Li (the former chair of Community Board 3) tallied 243 votes (or 12.89 percent of the local total). This contrasts sharply with the performances of these candidates in the race as whole, where Ms. Li finished last (with 9.9 percent of the overall vote) and Mr. Lee was second-to-last (with 11.2 percent).
Conversely, candidates who ran strongly elsewhere in the 65th Assembly District (and posted much stronger overall showings in the race as a whole) did poorly in Chinatown and Little Italy. The second-place finisher in the overall primary was Battery Park City resident Ms. Rajkumar, who won 19.1 percent of the vote in all of Lower Manhattan, but just 11.83 percent (or 223 local votes) in Chinatown and Little Italy, where she finished fourth. Similarly, the third-place finisher in the overall primary was Lower East Side resident Paul Newell, who took 16 percent of the vote in all Downtown communities, but just 9.23 percent in Chinatown and Little Italy, where he finished fourth.
The only two buildings located within Lower Manhattan’s 31st Election District are the Yung Wing School (P.S. 124), shown at left, and a parking garage, shown at right. Nobody can legally reside within either structure, and yet more than 250 votes were cast by people registered within this catchment.
The most glaring mathematical and geographic anomaly in all the precincts that fall within Chinatown and Little Italy is the 31st Election District. It is bordered on one side by Division Street (south of the Manhattan Bridge), and surrounded on three sides by the Confucius Plaza housing complex, with a largely Asian population. But the boundaries of the 31st election district (which half a block long on the north-south axis, and half a block wide from east to west) include only two structures: the Yung Wing School (P.S. 124) and the Confucius Plaza Parking Garage. Nobody lives in either building, nor would it be legally possible to register to vote using either structure as a residential address.
New York State Board of Elections records are largely consistent with these facts, noting that only one voter is registered as a Democrat within the 31st Election District. (It is not clear why or how even a single voter could register using a public school or a parking garage as a home address, but this may be attributable to clerical error.)
That noted, New York City Board of Elections records indicate that 258 voters from the 31st Election District showed up at the polls for the September 13 primary. Setting aside the question of how hundreds of people could use a public school or parking garage as their legal address, it is also unclear why 258 people were allowed to vote from the 31st Election District, when State records indicate that just one Democratic voter is registered there.
Even without such irregularities, however, voting in Chinatown and Little Italy may have largely decided the outcome of the September 13 primary. The winner, Ms. Niou, relied on Chinatown for 26.84 percent of all the votes she took in the race as a whole. And the two runners-up in the race as a whole — Ms. Rajkumar and Mr. Newell — appear to have accrued a deficit of votes in this community that offset their respective home-turf wins in Battery Park City (where Ms. Rajkumar finished first, with 49 percent of the local vote) and the Lower East Side (where Mr. Newell finished first).
All of which appears to reaffirm Chinatown’s longstanding reputation as a political powerhouse in Lower Manhattan, and one of the enclaves that dominates voting in the 65th Assembly District, a patchwork of communities stretching from the Battery to Vesey Street on the West Side and jigsawing just above Houston Street on the East Side. It is this aggregation of communities that Ms. Niou has won the Democratic Party nomination to vie to represent in the New York State Assembly in the general election, on November 8. In practical terms, however, the heavily “blue” landscape of Lower Manhattan makes the Democratic nod tantamount to winning the wider contest, and usually relegates the actual election to the status of a formality.