If voter turnout among traditionally underrepresented groups–minorities and young people–has been low nationally, the problem is particularly severe in Springfield. The problem is sometimes the subject of public debate, and even court cases. But related to the problem itself, residents have not mobilized around this issue effectively.
On September 15, 2009, only 6,340 people (9.5% of registered voters, or about 6% of Springfield’s voting age residents) turned out for Springfield’s preliminary election. Less than half of Springfield residents are registered to vote, compared to about 67% statewide.
Springfield is returning to ward representation, and there is considerable uncertainty about whether this change will make the city’s leadership more representative, inclusive, diverse, and ultimately responsive; or whether it will exacerbate the parochialism, pothole politics, and dysfunction many people already associate with Springfield politics. These preliminary election results indicate that ward representation has so far done nothing to increase democratic participation.
In November 2008, the historic election that resulted in the Obama presidency, 62% of registered voters (or about 51% of Springfield voting age residents) came to the poles. 2008 was not a mayoral election year, and there were no city council slots on the ballot. Not bad.
But in November 2007, when mayoral candidates, city council candidates, and school committee candidates were on the ballot, only, 27% of registered voters (or about 20% of Springfield voting age residents) came to the polls. José Tosado, the only Latino city councilperson in Springfield ever, in a city that is more than a quarter Hispanic, won the most votes (11,023 votes).
Voter turnout was low citywide in 2007, but the rate really drops when you look at minority wards, and it shoots up when you look at mostly White wards (see chart above). We need a more concerted effort–with institutional support–to change these disturbing trends. Until that point, we should expect these rates to remain unchanged.