Friday, April 07, 2006

Ward 20 Turnout

Ward 20 Turnout

A perennial question is: why don't people vote in local elections?

My home ward is the 20th, which is always in the bottom five, and frequently dead last, in terms of voter turnout among City of St. Louis wards.

This has little to do with the performance of the alderman, or the Democratic committeepeople... arguably. But it does relate closely to demographics and high mobility.

According to the 2000 Census, the area now covered by ward 20 had just under 12,000 residents, which is about the average population of a St. Louis city ward.

But of that population, only about 7,400 were age 18 and up. Of that, just over 4,000 - 54% - were African-American. This ward was drawn that way deliberately, to ensure ward 20 remained a majority African-American ward, albeit moved to the Southside after the controversial 2002 redistricting.

The most reliable voting bloc anywhere tends to be the 60-and-up population, but in ward 20, those folks make up less than 10% of the population, or just under 1,000 people.

Ward 20 is an irregularly-shaped area composed of parts of Benton Park West, Dutchtown, Gravois Park, and Marine Villa.

There are only five precincts and three polling places:

Froebel Elementary School, 3709 Nebraska at Winnebago: Precincts 1 & 3
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, 2817 Utah at Oregon: Precincts 2 & 5
Monroe Elementary School, 3641 Missouri at S Broadway: Precinct 4

This is what you find in terms of turnout for ward 20:

November 2, 2004 Presidential Election:
58% turnout (3rd from the bottom, above ward 3 and ward 22)
5,822 registered voters
3,364 ballots cast

April 5, 2005 Board of Education Election:
5.3% turnout (dead last)
5,963 registered voters
319 ballots cast

April 4, 2006 Election:
PubDef.net suggests that only 126 people voted in the 20th ward, where Downs and Jones were the winners. Actually, the breakdown (courtesy of the Arch City Chronicle) is as follows:

Clinkscale: 111 votes
Buford: 110 votes
Downs: 122 votes
Jones: 126 votes
McLin-Shireff (withdrew too late): 22 votes
Duncan (withdrew too late): 13 votes
Clark: 38 votes

Since most folks probably voted for two candidates - C&B or D&J - the vote total is probably something closer to 126 + 111 = 237 voters. That seems to closely correspond with the 542 total votes across the seven candidates. Divide 542 by 2, and you get 271 voters. Without official turnout figures, that's an OK guess.

Even if we say it's 271 voters, though, that's still LESS than the number who voted in the school board election one year ago. So it's less than 5%!

And again, dead last in the city. Ward 3 had twice as many votes in toto.

Of course, even the high turnout ward 16 barely broke the 3,000 vote mark. That suggests about 30% turnout there; impressive, in context of such low figures citywide, but hardly surprising out there. And they, too, went pretty solidly for Downs and Jones.

Ultimately, most people just don't have enough time to vote. Yes, the law says you're supposed to get three hours off on election day, but realistically, most low-wage workers cannot afford to ask for that. Maybe if they had a union...

1 comment:

Steve said...

"Ultimately, most people just don't have enough time to vote. "

I think this excuse is a cop-out. The polling places are open from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm - a total of 13 hours. Let's say, worst case scenario, someone has an hour commute and works a 10 hour day. That still leaves an hour to vote at the polling place. If it simply won't work to vote in person, an absentee ballot can be requested by mail. I think if the polling places were open for 24 hours, we STILL wouldn't get a significant increase.

The reasons people don't vote are more systemic. People don't feel like their vote matters, they aren't informed about the major issues, elections are not contested, and people don't feel connected to their neighborhoods to name a few.

Barring unforseen medical or personal emergencies, not voting is inexcuseable in my book. Ironic thing is that the City actually COUNTS on low turnout. If even 50% of the registered voters turned out for a municipal election, the system would be overwhelmed. My polling place had only two voting machines in the last election.