Purple Putnam Valley

Purple Putnam Valley
Photo by Element5 Digital / Unsplash

With four of the five current town council members on the Republican ticket and a Republican representing the town on the county's legislature for the last eight-plus years, one can be forgiven for assuming that Putnam Valley is a "red" town.

Fun fact: There are more registered Democrats in Putnam Valley (3,002) than Republicans (2,742). Indeed, Democrats are outnumbered - and only barely - in just two of the town's ten voting districts (#5 and 7 in the southeast corner of  town). If you're an election nerd and want to look at the breakdowns yourself, click here.

This isn't a sudden shift. Since at least 2016, Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in Putnam Valley. During that period, 883 people were added to the voting rolls, of which 381 chose the Democratic party, 243 registered as Republicans and 84 registered without any party affiliation.

Given that Democrats have a slight numerical edge over Republicans, why is there so little local Democratic representation?  There are several possible explanations. First, the town has a large number of people (2,340, in fact) who eschew both parties and have chosen to register as independent voters. There is also a small but consistent group who identify with the Conservative Party and an even smaller number who are registered with the Working Families Party.

In tightly contested local elections, candidates who attract voters from other than the two main parties win. For example, Republican County Legislator William Gouldman's opponents in 2014 and 2017 received more Democratic votes than he received Republican votes, but he won each time because he was able to attract Conservative and independent voters.

Similarly, in the 2021 election for highway superintendent, Democrat Shawn Keeler almost lost to his Republican opponent. Although Keeler received 269 more Democratic votes than his opponent's Republican votes, the 333 votes from Conservatives almost tipped the balance. Keeler got 105 votes from a group called PV For All and ultimately won by just 41 votes.

Perhaps the most serious obstacle to Democrats prevailing in local elections is the demonstrable lack of interest or energy in the local party. There is a dearth of Democratic candidates who want to run for local office and no obvious pipeline. In January, for instance, the Putnam County News & Recorder (PCNR) published a notice that the local Democratic party would be interviewing candidates for office on Feb. 5th at The Grange. No new candidates showed up.

For this fall's town board elections, the Democratic Party will field just one candidate though there are three openings, including for town supervisor. Republican incumbents (Supervisor Jacqueline Annabi and Councilman Louie Luongo) are expected to run again to retain their roles, and Patty Villanova, who ran (and lost) for the board in 2019, is also running as a Republican, though she has not received the Republican Party's endorsement.  

The local Republican Party has also been more effective than Democrats at turning out the vote. In the 2020 election for the town board, for example, only 45% of the town's registered Democrats appear to have voted for Democratic candidates, vs. 65% of those registered as Republicans who voted for their party's candidates. In other words, if the same percentage of registered Democratic voters had turned out as Republicans did for their candidates, the Democratic candidates would have won.

To state the obvious, the party that puts forward candidates and gets its registered voters to turn out wins the day.