An Increase in Minority Voting Would Be Biggest Game Changer

Through the vote, citizens communicate information about their interests, preferences, and needs and make important decisions about who should hold office. Unfortunately, at the local level that voice is exceptionally weak.

 

Disadvantaged segments of the population—racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, those with a limited education—tend to vote significantly less regularly than others…

This is an excerpt from “Municipal Institutions and Voter Turnout in Local Elections,” authored by Zoltan L. Hajnal, University of California, San Diego, and Paul G. Lewis of the Public Policy Institute of California (2003). According to Thomas M. Holbrook and Aaron Weinschenk in an article published in Political Research Quarterly on behalf of the University of Utah, titled “Campaigns, Mobilization and Turnout in Mayoral Elections (2013),” these low turnout rates “signal a crisis in American Democracy.”

According to Fairvote.org, only 60 percent of the voting eligible population votes in presidential elections. That number drops to 40 percent during midterm elections. Contrast this with other countries: Australia, Belgium, and Chile each boast voter turnout rates of 90 percent.

In local elections this number is even worse. In mayoral elections, only 27 percent of the voting eligible population votes. In other city elections, generally it rises to 34 percent.

In 2011, Austin, Texas Mayor Lee Leffingwell, in his State of the City address, warned:

…I’m especially concerned about what I see as a growing disconnect between citizens and their government.  …this is not unique to Austin… …our biggest problem… …is the dangerous level of disinterest in city elections.

Leffingwell goes on to describe his election win:

In a city of nearly 800,000 people, I won an open mayor’s seat in 2009 with 27,500 votes. The overall turnout in that race was 13%, which is actually the highest it’s been since 2003. In run-offs, we’ve recently seen a turnout as low as 5%.

While these numbers are extremely low, Austin is not alone. The numbers above clearly demonstrate that many elected local officials cannot represent the majority of their constituents. On average, 66 to 73 percent of voting eligible citizens don’t vote in local elections.

In a city of 1 million eligible voters, a mere 140,000 voters can potentially become the “majority.” This view is confirmed by the “Municipal Institutions and Voter Turnout in Local Elections” article:

The exceedingly low participation in local elections raises a number of concerns. One of the most serious is that the voice of the people in municipal elections is likely to be severely distorted.

 

As turnout falls, this bias is likely to become more severe… … there is a very real possibility that elected officials and the policies they enact will tend to serve only a small segment of the population.

Thus, voters participating in local elections are not as likely to be ethnic minorities, poor, the uneducated, or under-educated. This potentially leaves these citizens voiceless and disenfranchised.

In 2010, the U.S. Census published “Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010.” In it, they found that African-Americans represented 12.6 percent of the American population. Hispanics represented 16.3 percent of the population. Asians represented 4.8 percent of the population. These three minority groups together are 33.7 percent of the population in the United States.

In 2012, the census reports that approximately 202,072,000 were eligible to vote. Based on the percentages above, over 25 million were African-American, nearly 33 million were Hispanic, and just under 10 million were Asian. Total, the number of eligible voters in these groups was approximately 68 million Americans.

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, In 2012, 20 percent of all Americans were under the federal poverty level. That is 62,498,000 Americans. Of that number, 41,365,700 are 18 or older. Further, based on the Kaiser Foundation research, 35 percent were African-American, 33 percent were Hispanic, and 13 percent were white.

National midterm elections have an average 40 percent voter participation rate. If only 50 percent of the above demographics participated in these elections, it could potentially increase total participation to 58 percent. Locally, current voter participation averages 27 to 34 percent. This means participation could potentially be raised to 45 to 52 percent.

Activating this voter base could have a dramatic impact, both locally and nationally, drastically changing election outcomes which would, in turn, change the face of American Politics. The candidate or political party that does this… wins.