Brendan Fitzpatrick

October 13, 2023

FSU Professor Breaks Down Reasons, Solutions to Low Local Voter Turnout

Photo courtesy of Lorianne DiSabato, Creative Commons license

FRAMINGHAM - Election Day in Framingham is right around the corner, though it’s coming in the wake of remarkably low turnouts for the preliminary vote in the District 9 City Council race.

Of the 3,000 total voters registered in District 9, just 62 went to the polls on September 19. Incumbent Tracey Bryant and challenger Jose Ferreira tallied 40 votes and 16 votes, respectively, to secure their spots in the general election on November 7.

While a voter turnout of just barely over 2% could be jarring on the surface, Professor in Political Science, Law, and Global Studies at Framingham State University Dr. David Smailes explained that the city is not alone, as it’s part of a familiar trend in local politics as a whole—especially when there isn’t a national or statewide topic on the ballot.

“The world’s changed when it comes to voters,” Smailes said.

“One of the things that’s changed is that people are a lot more mobile. They move around a lot more, they’re at a younger age when they do that. A lot of people just don’t feel all that invested in local politics for that reason.”

Smailes attributed that factor to people potentially seeking out other places to live, as opposed to staying in one place long-term. The professor added that major events, such as Framingham’s first election of a mayor, can drive up local participation at the polls in addition to national and statewide matters.

The difficult part in driving municipal voter turnout, Smailes said, is informing residents who are not already plugged into local issues. Older residents who have lived in communities for a while may already be up to speed on what is at stake and may be more motivated to have their voices heard.

For others, they might not be tuned in by the time Election Day rolls around—and if they do vote, they may do so solely based off of name recognition.

“They have 20 other things they’re thinking about before they’re thinking about local politics,” Smailes continued, “but finding an issue that they care about is an avenue, I think, for getting their attention.”

School-related and infrastructure topics were some examples highlighted by Smailes to possibly mobilize younger residents to cast their ballots in local elections.

“If you’re a candidate who wants to reach that demographic, you need to focus on the kinds of things that, in their daily life, people are going to encounter,” Smailes said.

The professor remarked that the biggest changes in government that impact day-to-day conditions are not often the ones found in Washington or on Beacon Hill, but in local city and town halls.

“If you can get people to realize that and to focus on that,” Smailes continued, “then I think candidates can really meet voters where they are…in a way that will make a difference.”

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