In the latest Public Problems, Suffolk Solutions, Suffolk University examines the causes and consequences of low voter turnout in municipal elections. Last month less than fourteen percent of registered voters in Boston cast ballots in citywide contests. This continues a trend that leads to increasing inequality, overrepresentation of affluent, white constituents, and consolidated political influence in the hands of select interest groups.
Rachael Cobb, Chair of Suffolk University’s Department of Government, has studied municipal elections for 15 years, researching ways to overcome the divisive results exhibited in off-cycle municipal elections, including holding them in even-numbered years to coincide with presidential and statewide races, and instituting election-day voter registration.
This session of the Ford Hall Forum, led by Department of Government Chair Rachael Cobb, brings panelists together to address the topic of low voter engagement in municipal elections. Long-term trends indicate that voter turnout in municipal elections in larger cities like Boston is on the decline—it can be as low as single digits. Low-turnout elections tend to be dominated by whiter, more affluent, older voters. What are the implications for municipal services? For minorities? For democracy? Examining these questions are Professors Sarah Anzia and Zoltan Hajnal of the University of California, and Elena Letona, Executive Director of Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts.