When we think about the Vote By Mail program, it’s worth thinking about the totals in context. It shouldn’t be surprising that those Councilors scheming against Vote By Mail are desperate for you to do anything but. Here’s Jim Manilla, earlier today, encouraging citizens to only look at the city’s 2003 voter turnout.
FYI. 2003 City election had a 25% voter turnout without vote by mail. 22% 2011 with vote by mail.
Before going farther, it’s worth noting that Manilla’s willingness to debate this topic would seem to suggest where he stands on the issue. What’s odd though is his attempt to defend his position: why, after all, would we only look at a single data point when the city has elections every two years? And why look at one that is nine years old rather than something more recent?
I emailed the Linda Little, the City’s Clerk, and she very helpfully sent me vote totals for the last eleven elections, starting in 1991 and going through 2011. The data she sent me shows the number of registered voters, the number of them that voted, and the percentage that total represents. And what does that data show? That even a casual glance reveals that taking 2003 out of context is going to be necessary for those opposed to Vote By Mail. Why?
Because participation in the city’s elections has been abysmal.
In 1991 and 1993, the city’s voter participation was above 25 percent (29 percent in 1991, 26 percent in 1993). After that though, it begins a precipitous decline: 18 percent in 1995, 17 percent in 1997, 3 percent in 1999 (which somehow isn’t the worst number you’re about to see), 16 percent in 2001, 24.6 percent in 2003, 9.9 percent in 2005, 1.6 percent (MY GOD!) in 2007, 9.1 percent in 2009, and then, 22.25 percent in 2011.
If you’re following that, you’ll recognize that in its first year of existence, Vote By Mail produced the fourth highest participation total in the last eleven elections, that Vote By Mail produced the second highest voter participation total in the last six elections, and that Vote By Mail produced the highest voter participation of the last four elections. Worth noting when considering that last fact: more people voted in 2011 than voted in 2005, 2007, and 2009 combined.
And there’s more to think about. 2011’s election, by virtue of it being the first time Vote By Mail was done, represented a new experience for everybody: voters, officials, candidates, etc. It was an election that didn’t run smoothly; there was confusion and, at times, incoherence. Nobody is claiming otherwise. But why assume than 2013 would be worse? Inefficient though 2011 might have been, it still produced what appears to have been increased civic engagement. It still reversed a worrying trend of city elections in which fewer than 10 percent o registered voters actually bothered to cast a ballot. It still seems to have made voting easier for the city’s registered voters.
Why roll back that progress? Is the answer really simply to save a few dollars whilst simultaneously decreasing voting’s efficiency and citizen participation?