Saturday, October 19, 2013

Low voter turnout in local elections: an analysis

During their "Houston Matters" weekday show on Monday Oct. 14, KUHF dedicated its first segment to the mayoral election. The station brought in three professors of political science -- Mark Jones and Paul Brace from Rice University and Renee Cross from the University of Houston.

Most of the segment was dedicated to analyzing the resumes and plans of each of the nine(!) candidates for mayor, which got to be a lot of fun when you moved down to the names of the people you had never heard of (who knew the socialist workers party even existed in Texas?).

But a large undercurrent of the show was dedicated to wondering why people don't vote in local elections. I don't disagree with any of the reasons the three gave, (less prominence, people

1. Lack of mobilization resources. Ben Hall and Annise Parker have considerable resources, their campaigns simply don't have the national prominence or organizing ability that a presidential or even a gubenatorial campaign might have to turn out voters.  Mobilization -- through advertisements, door-to-door visits, offers of rides to the polls -- lowers costs for voters

2. It's a non-partisan election. One of the simplest pieces of information to give voters is a Party ID, which cuts voting costs by giving you a cue about a candidate's positions on everything from gay rights and abortion to labor unions, the environment, mass transit and government regulation of the economy and jobs.

Don't believe me?

Take the following ballot:

1. Warner
2. Warner

Do you know what the candidates stand for? Do you know who you are going to vote for?

Probably not.

Now let's make it a partisan election

1. Warner (R)
2. Waner (D)

Now do you have a better idea of what the candidates stand for and who you are going to vote for?

I rest my case.

We love to decry excessive partisanship, but there is something to be said for both the mobilizing capacity and information-provision that well-organized political parties provide.

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