Local Leaders: Ferguson's Black Population Doesn't Turn Out To Vote

Voters are always far too slow to make the connection between their lack of participation in the political system and their likely oppression by said system. Politicians respond to constituents! I'm pretty sure we're going to see a full-court press now to get Ferguson residents registered. Now if they just turn out and vote, they can make real change in their community. If I could wave my magic wand and do one thing, it would be to make voting mandatory:

Black political leaders in the area say it’s not surprising that Ferguson’s government isn’t responsive to their community’s concerns, because blacks across St. Louis County simply haven’t turned out to vote in large numbers, or run candidates for office.

No one collects data on turnout by race in municipal elections. But the overall turnout numbers for Ferguson’s mayoral and city council election are discouraging. This year, just 12.3% of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to numbers provided by the county. In 2013 and 2012, those figures were even lower: 11.7% and 8.9% respectively. As a rule, the lower the turnout, the more the electorate skews white and conservative.

“I think there is a huge distrust in the system,” said Broadnax, a Ferguson native. Many blacks think: “Well it’s not going to matter anyway, so my one vote doesn’t count,” she said. “Well, if you get an entire community to individually feel that way, collectively we’ve already lost.”

Ferguson’s election system may also be a factor. For council elections, the city has three districts, or wards, and each ward elects two members each. That means it’s edging toward an “at-large” voting system, in which there are no districts at all, and all candidates face the whole electorate. Numerous jurisdictions around the country have used such systems to reduce minority representation, since it makes it harder for numerical minorities to elect their preferred candidates.

[...] It doesn’t help that Missouri’s city council and school board elections are held in April, rather than in November when they would coincide with state or federal contests. That arrangement leads to lower turnout across the board, but especially among racial minorities. Some southern cities have been accused of deliberately moving their municipal elections to the spring or summer in order to reduce black turnout.


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[...] But State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, whose district includes Ferguson and who has been involved in the protests, said she thinks the anger over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown will translate into increased political engagement among the region’s blacks.

“I think this issue is changing the game completely,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “People are upset.”

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