The issue is whether to align Takoma Park elections with state and federal elections in even years, which would enhance turnout and participation. Terrill North says vote yes, and I concur. More people voting is always a good thing. Here’s Terrill.
Terrill North is the Board Chair of Making a New United People (MANUP), a Takoma Park-based mentoring program serving nearly 500 disconnected youth in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. He will be taking MANUP students aged 16 & up to vote on Tuesday.
YES on Question One
Takoma Park is thought of by many as a hippie commune. In reality, the community is home to the highest concentration of poverty in Montgomery County. Like the county, the city has no ethnic majority with many blocks where jollof rice or pupusas are more popular than the crunchiest granola.
That diversity, however, does not extend to local elections. Turnout in 2013 was an anemic 10.1% (5.9% and 7.5% in predominantly black Wards 5 and 6 respectively). This is a fall from 25% in 2005 and 32% in 1995. At the same time, the city boasted a 76% turnout in the 2012 national election (78% in Ward 6 where I live).
This is why I am supporting a ‘YES’ vote on Question One on the ballot this Tuesday, which would allow the city to synch local elections with state and federal elections in even years. The city would have 2-3 years to develop plans to continue local voting among special populations like 16 and 17 year olds, parolees, and resident aliens, who are only allowed to vote in the city.
Turnout in Richmond, VA grew from 17% to 42% after synching election dates. Ocean City, MD’s turnout doubled to 48% after synching. This is why communities like Baltimore, Cumberland, Sharpsburg, and Chesapeake Beach, MD have recently realigned their local elections with state/federal elections. We don’t check off boxes by race when we vote, but I believe increasing turnout from 7.5% to 78% in a community like Ward 6 that is 82% people of color would likely increase the vote among residents of color.
Takoma Park is not alone in dealing with this challenge. The Gazette published an interesting piece on minority participation in Takoma Park, Gaithersburg, and Rockville government back in 2012. Our communities will not be the inclusive places we want unless we start thinking seriously about ways to get everyone involved.
I believe the shenanigans with Hampshire Tower’s 40-70% rent increases would have gone differently if city officials thought those 200+ households voted. If the 78% that voted for Obama in 2012 had voted in the city elections over the past few cycles instead of 7.5%, I believe those residents would have had stronger representatives every step of the process, including the sales of the building in 2006 and 2015, proposed 40-70% increases this summer, and the 15% “compromise” negotiated this month.
Changing an election date is only a partial solution, but I believe building a larger, more inclusive electorate is an important step to creating a smaller, more inclusive city.