Beyond Ferguson — Unrepresentative Democracy in City Elections
The following piece if from Huffington Post. It was written by Rob Richie.
By: Rob Richie
I worked on this analsyis with two colleagues, Zack Avre and Amaris Montes.
As we approach the midterm elections, many analysts are suggesting that our usually low midterm turnout — averaging about two in five eligible voters in recent decades — may dip even lower despite these elections drawing more spending than any midterm election in history. But it’s even worse in local elections — not only in numbers, but in equity in areas such as age and race that raise serious questions about the disengagement of a growing number of Americans from their municipal governments.
Take Ferguson, Missouri, where there is continued unrest in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting. The distorted makeup of the Ferguson City Council and the city’s police force — with only three out of 53 police officers and out of six council members being African American — lead many to ask: Why does Ferguson’s city government not reflect the city it represents?
Using L2’s VoterMapping software, we traced voter turnout in Ferguson in all elections since 2008, paying particular attention to disparities among racial and age groups. Our findings confirm that voters in city elections are significantly older and whiter than the presidential election electorate and adult population.
The problem of an unrepresentative government starts with low turnout overall in Ferguson. Take a look at how Ferguson’s turnout of registered voters in municipal elections compares with other elections.
That low turnout is also highly unrepresentative of the community. In the 2010 census, two in three residents of Ferguson were African American, yet they have made up only about one third of voters in the past seven city elections. White voters have made up over 50 percent of the electorate in local elections over the same period, yet are only 38 percent of voters in presidential elections.
The disparity among age groups is even more striking. As a super-majority, three-fifths of eligible voters in Ferguson are under 50, yet this demographic makes up less than 20 percent of voters in the city’s municipal elections. Voters ages 18-30, in particular, are merely four percent of the electorate in city elections — that represents a sixth of their share of the voting age population and a third of their share of the presidential electorate.
Residents over 50, on the other hand, make up a staggering 80 percent of voters in local elections, with our estimate of the median age voter being 63. Much attention has been paid to the racial disparities in voter turnout, yet the issue of civic engagement and representative government is clearly a matter of both race and age.
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