Low and Unequal Turnout in Montgomery Co. (MD) Strengthens Case for Right to Vote Task Force Recommendations
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In the Fall of 2013, the Montgomery County Council adopted a Right to Vote resolution in support of a constitutional right to vote, and in doing so, established a task force on voting. That task force produced a report with several recommendations to increase voter turnout in county elections and expand access for Montgomery County voters. The County Council is currently in the process of considering action on several of those recommendations.
Here at FairVote we decided to take a look at voter turnout in Montgomery County since 2006, using L2’s VoterMapping software. County elections in Montgomery County are held in midterm years, so we paid particular attention to overall voter participation and turnout by age in presidential elections, midterm elections, and midterm primaries.
Our findings confirm that voter participation drops dramatically from a high of 81 percent in presidential elections to just 27 percent in midterm primaries. In most election cycles, primaries effectively decide countywide offices, yet only one in four registered voters in Montgomery County cast ballots in these critical elections.
Moreover, low turnout in midterm primaries is highly uneven among age groups.. Only one in three residents over 50 cast ballots in midterm primary elections, yet that turnout is high compared to voter participation by residents under 50. In fact, just 15 percent of voters between 30 to 50 and seven percent of voters under 30 participated in the last two midterm primaries.
Our analysis supports the findings and recommendations of the Montgomery County Right to Vote task force. In the task force’s report published in June of 2014, task force members make a series of sensible recommendations to address the county’s low and unequal turnout. Relating to engaging young adults specifically, recommendations include better civic programs and lowering the voting age to 16 for County elections. Among other recommendations, ranked choice voting would have particularly high potential to create opportunities for more diverse representation and accommodate voter having more choices. Although ranked choice voting could be implemented in only the primaries or general elections, one option is to follow the lead of cities like Minneapolis (MN) and San Francisco (CA) and eliminate low-turnout primaries altogether in favor of a single high turnout election in November. Absent mandatory voting, such a change would have the single biggest impact on increasing overall turnout and equity in participation.
We commend the task force for its commitment to increasing voter participation and urge ongoing attention to these recommendations moving forward.
Note: the L2 VoterMapping tool uses a comprehensive database of current registered voters; however, the database does not include individuals who may have voted in past elections but are no longer registered to vote. For analytic purposes, the VoterMapping tool is best equipped to measure relative turnout of various demographic groups and compare rates of turnout within the same election year.