In a precinct won by Mayor Kim Janey, mayoral candidate Michelle Wu certainly drew a large crowd.
The current at-large city councilor stood side-by-side with some of her most notable supporters, including State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Sonia Chang-Diaz, City Councilors Lydia Edwards, and Ricardo Arroyo. But the Hyde Park presser was really to highlight Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s recent endorsement of Wu. Since the preliminary election, former mayoral contenders including Janey and City Councilor Andrea Campbell have also pledged their support to Wu, helping unite a key demographic behind Wu’s campaign: black voters.
The Wu event prompted me to think back to Boston’s primary election results from September.
Despite a frenzy of state and national attention, only 108,181 voters cast ballots in a city of 430,000+ registered voters, amounting to a low 25 percent turnout rate. Such low turnout is not an isolated incident, but one example of a much larger nationwide problem.
Even with Boston’s top-two system in place (and early voting options accessible), turnout still lagged. Certain factors should be taken into consideration to help explain this. The first is that turnout historically decreases in non-presidential election years. In municipal races in general, it’s usually much lower, too. The second reason involves demographics. The Boston wards and precincts with the highest turnout were predominantly whiter neighborhoods, such as West Roxbury and areas of Dorchester. Areas with the lowest turnout included parts of Roxbury and Mattapan, both of which are majority-minority communities with a large population of black residents. So, essentially, the actual voter turnout was disproportionate or unreflective of the city’s racial and ethnic demography.
The map below shows the percentage of voter turnout in each Boston precinct. Created by the MassINC Polling Group, the map shows higher voter turnout in darker shades of green, while lower voter turnout is shaded in lighter shades of green.
As pictured, the predominantly white areas of West Roxbury (south and western edge) and Dorchester (south and eastern edge) had the highest voter turnout; they also supported mayoral contender Annissa Essaibi George over Wu. Some areas of majority-Black Roxbury had low rates of turnout; whoever wins Boston’s mayoral race will need to turn out and win Black voters.
Michelle Wu is arguably in a better spot to do so than Essaibi George. In the primary, Wu largely outperformed Essaibi George in crucial areas like Roxbury and Mattapan. From that perspective, Wu has an advantage. What is also helping Wu right now is the fact that key figures such as Janey, Campbell, and Pressley have endorsed her campaign. Whether that momentum will translate into electoral success, however, won’t be known until election night.
The Wu campaign often touts the “multi-generational and multi-racial” coalition they’ve built. And, indeed, the Hyde Park event with Ayanna Pressley was a physical representation of that message. Nonetheless, both Wu and Essaibi George will have to reach out to voters who did not vote for them in the primary, as well as those who didn’t vote at all. It’s also increasingly clear that identifying why turnout lags is often circumstantial and vary depending on demographics.
“Boston City Hall: Hipster Style” by adecusatis is licensed underCC BY-NC 2.0
Your post highlights the importance of engaging the whole of the electorate. For only 25% of registered voters to show up to the polls in September is, as you put, is a show a much larger issue at hand. The democratic process hinges on voters going to the polls to show tangible support for their candidates. The United States, like many other countries, struggles to increase its political participation. When examining the causes, one answer could be voter suppression, specifically suppression of the Black vote, which you mentioned as being the target of the candidates in Boston. Some examples of voter suppression are mail-voting laws, voter laws for felons, and more extreme cases of name confirmation, all of which target Black voters more than their white counterparts. But to bring the conversation back to Massachusetts, the race gap can be a discouraging factor for voters. Why would someone vote in a community they feel marginalized in?
To increase voter turnout at the polls in what some might consider insignificant election years, there needs to be an extreme overhaul in the political process. Voters need to know their vote is actually worth something which starts with them being able to feasibly cast their ballot.