Friday, November 7, 2014

Voter participation: a lesson for Dallas

For the last couple of days I have been inundated by analyses from pundits on why voters cast their ballots the way they did on Tuesday. But there’s another analysis I haven’t seen that I would welcome and would find even more interesting.

U.S. citizens don’t vote and I have absolutely no idea why that’s so. Of course, there’s always going to be a lot of people who don’t take part in the political process in any form whatsoever. That’s their prerogative. But what mystifies me is that two thirds of Americans who devote the time and energy to register to vote never show up to the polls. Why? That’s what I want to know.

For Dallas municipal elections it’s even worse. Much worse. Last year, only 7 percent — 7 percent — of the city’s registered voters took the time to select a candidate to represent them on the city council. That’s disgraceful. But in 2011, when the city was picking a new mayor as well as council representatives, only 13 percent voted.

In Austin this year, the voter turnout for the city council election was 40 percent of the registered voters. Not great, but still significantly better than the Dallas numbers. In 2010 it was 38 percent in Austin, more than double the 15 percent that voted in Dallas’ 2009 elections. In 2006, it was 40 percent in Austin, 13 percent for the comparable election in Dallas.

That disparity I can explain quite easily because in 2012, only 11 percent of eligible Austin voters participated in the city council election process. The difference? That 2012 election was held in May, the others were held as part of the November general election ballot.

Dallas, for some reason, also holds its municipal elections in May. The argument for this that I’ve heard is that Dallas city council candidates don’t want their elections to be buried beneath all the statewide and nationwide choices that they would have to share the ballot with. What a crock. Talk about basic insecurity.

When Dallas was holding a series of public hearings on proposed changes to the city charter earlier this year I testified at one of them and one of my recommendations was to move Dallas city elections from May to November to attract greater voter participation. C’mon, 7 percent is a travesty that should make Dallas ashamed.

But I would still want to know why most of the nation’s registered voters don’t bother to vote. Would love for someone to take up that issue.

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