Thursday, April 03, 2008

Councilor Tobin's Saturday Silliness

Councilor John Tobin (West Roxbury) appears to be unhappy with the turnout in municipal elections in Boston, so he has proposed to address the turnout problem by holding municipal elections on Saturdays:
“For some folks, it is the Sabbath, but we have to look at boosting election turnout,” said Tobin. “It seems like people are working longer. Polls are open 13 hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.”...

Tobin said holding elections on Saturdays would also encourage more students to get involved in citywide elections.
I'm far from the first person to state the obvious: Councilor Tobin has put forward a stupid idea because many religious people observe their Sabbath on Saturday. That's why we don't already hold elections on Sunday -- the founders were much more strict in their adherence to a day of rest, which has come down to us in the form of Blue Laws.

Is Councilor Tobin, whom some say is considering running for Mayor next year, afraid of the Orthodox Jewish vote? If he wasn't afraid of it before, I suspect he should be now, because I think he lost many votes just by proposing to hold elections on Saturdays. For a guy who may want to be Mayor, alienating one or more religious groups is a lousy way to start a campaign.

I can think of a number of alternative and reasonable ideas that would increase voter turnout rates for municipal elections -- but without holding them on Saturdays:
  1. Synchronize the municipal election calendar to that of the Presidential and Congressional elections, i.e., to have City Councilors election on even years (2008, 2010, 2012, etc.) and the Mayor elected on alternate even years (2008, 2012, etc.). Boston municipal elections are currently on odd years, which is the obvious reason why turnout is so low.
  2. Allow advance voting by mail, such as already occurs in some states. People who have difficulty making it to a polling place on the first Tuesday in November between 7 am and 8 pm have weeks in advance of that date to mail in their ballot. This requires significant advance preparation by the elections authorities, such as assembling digital scans of voter signatures, but it is forward-thinking solution that addresses many other inequities of the voting process.
  3. Have competitive races with real challengers. The problem of incumbents rarely getting a realistic challenge for their seat means that most district races generate little or no public interest. Last fall's City Council election was a good example: Allston-Brighton turnout nearly matched that of the rest of the city, an unheard-of occurrence easily attributable to the lively contest for the open District 9 seat on the City Council. It's a nation-wide problem, not easily solved. Term limits can increase the turnover in each elected office, while publicly-financed elections can level the playing field, but neither is ever popular amongst those currently holding elected office.
  4. Stop having so many special elections. Many of our elected officials just don't serve out their full terms, resulting in special elections when they vacate their seats. In Boston, last fall saw another election every week or so to fill various openings in parts of the city. People are unlikely to show up again and again if there are so many elections, and the MSM just get confused in trying to cover them all. Solutions: rewrite state law governing when special elections are required; and convince elected officials to serve out their terms (or else face 40 lashes).
In short, we don't have to go down Councilor Tobin's Saturday elections path. There are better ways to increase voter turnout.

And how to get more students involved in municipal elections? I can think of some off-campus houses that could serve as precinct polling places on a Saturday night -- providing free beer to everyone who votes. Please don't spill that beer onto the optical scanner!

Via UniversalHub.

Earlier: Dispelling the myth that rain caused the low voter turnout in the November 2007 municipal election.

Also: Results of a previous poll here at the Brighton Centered Blog on why people thought the voter turnout was low in that election (scroll down the right-hand column of the full webpage):

53% Media coverage was nonexistent
33% People just don't care about city elections
6% Voters were unhappy with the range of candidates
4% What election?
0% Rain, rain, rain.

1 comment:

Buck Packer said...

There is no perfect day of the week to have an election. Somebody is always going to feel discriminated against. I personally do not like Tuesdays because I work far from my office and my boss is disinclined to let us go home early or come in late to vote. Saturday elections would not discriminate against Orthodox Jews if polls were kept open until 9 p.m. because the Sabbath is only from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.