Brooklyn saw high voter turnout in uncontested Council races. Why?

voters in general election
The 2023 council elections saw relatively low turnout — but a few uncontested races in northern Brooklyn saw surprisingly high numbers of voters.
File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Every single New York City Council Member was up for reelection in November — but only a few races attracted more than a few candidates, and many in Brooklyn were uncontested, with just the incumbent on the ballot.

Combined with the fact that it was an off-year election, voter turnout was low. Even some of Brooklyn’s most exciting races garnered relatively few votes — in the 43rd District, the first Asian-majority council district in the city, just over 8,000 people voted, according to Board of Elections results. 

But in Bed-Stuy’s District 36, incumbent Council Member Chi Ossé garnered approximately 9,000 votes and the highest percentage of votes among all 51 districts, with 98.74% support. Similarly, Crystal Hudson, who represents District 36 and also ran uncontested, amassed approximately 12,000 votes.

council member crystal hudson
Though she ran uncontested, Council Member Crystal Hudson earned more than 12,000 votes on election day. File photo courtesy of Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

The high voter turnout in these uncontested races begs the question: “What drove such enthusiastic participation in uncontested elections?”

Simply put, people voted to show their support, according to 23-year-old, Gen Z Council Member Ossé.

“They told me they were very appreciative of the work I do, and really wanted to vote,” Ossé stated. “I have a wonderful constituency who are very supportive and I think they wanted to show their support on Election Day.”

While District 47 saw intense competition with candidates Justin Brannan and Ari Kagan campaigning aggressively for victory, Ossé pursued a different mission. 

“My campaigning wasn’t as robust as it was in my first race … it wasn’t even really campaigning,” said Ossé. “I’ve worked really hard on trying to raise awareness and get things done on the local level for my constituents.”

He attributed the strong voter turnout to his constituents’ appreciation for his stance on various local and non-local issues, including his recent advocacy for peace in Gaza. 

“I think a lot of people appreciated my stance on being one of the few council members calling for a ceasefire,” he stated.

In addition to a supportive constituency, Ossé felt his strategies to inform and engage with his constituency appear to be the primary factors behind his high voting turnout. 

“Communication is a huge part of what we do in this office,” he said, referring to his recent viral video that addresses issues in local libraries amid the mayor’s proposed cuts.

“Certainly younger people come out to vote in local races within my council district because of how active I am on social media,” Ossé said. “I think that through my social media style and platform, my outreach continues to turn up people who are not traditionally likely to vote in local off-year elections.”

chi osse protest
Ossé (left) said he felt his social media presence and hands-on work in the community drove his constituents to the polls. Photo courtesy of William Alatriste/NYC Council Media Unit

On social media, Ossé’s supporters expressed their excitement for the incumbent.

“This is what showing up for late-night tenant meetings, showing up for tenants in eviction court gets you, and doing real advocacy! The people see you out here! Appreciate you,” one supporter posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Another supporter expressed confidence in Ossé’s mission, writing, “Gladly voted for you for a second term on the @WorkingFamilies line so they would get the bump too. Keep up the good work!”

The New Kings Democrats, a Brooklyn-based grassroots political organization, takes several measures to endorse Democratic candidates and educate voters during local elections. 

The club’s Vice President of Organizing, Mikael Haxby, outlined the drivers behind high voter turnouts in this year’s general election. 

“One factor is the presence of a high-profile contested race,” which motivates citizens to participate when there’s competition in the election — like in District 47.

“They’ll see that in their neighborhood, talk to their neighbors about it…they’ll get ads about it and all sorts of things,” Haxby stated. “Our club is particularly interested in seeing the Democratic Party build from its grassroots and engage with voters.”

Haxby said the club also works to provide voter education, especially concerning judicial elections and ballot questions, which often lack clarity. 

“If people feel a level of understanding, they can feel more empowered and they’d be more likely to vote,” he noted. 

NKD has developed a voter guide to help inform citizens during every general election in Brooklyn.

people at voting booths
The New Kings Democrats work to educate voters ahead of elections, which they say can help increase voter participation. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Haxby said that the significant turnout in Crystal Hudson’s District 35 election — which had the second-highest voter turnout in Brooklyn, despite the fact that there was not a contested election on the ballot — showed that voters “are doing the normal things that they do as engaged citizens.”  

“A lot of the turnout effects are about habits that you have already developed,” Haxby said, indicating that established voting patterns influence turnout.

Whether it is habitual behavior or the influence of competitive races, Ossè’s felt his race emphasized the role of community engagement in voter turnout. 

“There were so many constituent cases that I fully worked on myself,” he said, explaining his hands-on approach that established a direct rapport with his community. 

As the year ends, the council member is focusing on important tasks ahead.

 “We’re just trying to close any loose ties,” he said, particularly regarding the budget cuts on his radar.

chi osse
Heading into his next term, Ossé said he is trying to “stay consistent.” Photo courtesy of Emil Cohen/City Council Media Unit

“Next year, a lot of the bigger legislation, like my FARE Act, is something that we are going to prioritize in terms of hopefully getting past the finish line once and for all.”

Ossé aims to use his platform to raise awareness about causes that resonate with his constituency and actively engage with the public to ensure continued support from his voters.

“I’m just trying to remain consistent,” he said.