Too few people choose our local leaders

In local elections across the United States, fewer than 15 percent of eligible citizens are turning out to vote for community leaders like mayors and city councilors.

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Low voter turnout is a problem in cities across the country

Researchers at Portland State University analyzed 23 million voting records to understand who voted in the most recent local elections in 50 U.S. cities. Here’s what they discovered:

  • turnout is abysmally low

    Turnout in 10 of America’s 30 largest cities was less than 15%. In Las Vegas, Ft. Worth, and Dallas, turnout was in the single digits.

  • THE MEDIAN AGE OF VOTERS WAS 57

    That's nearly a generation older than the median age of eligible voters. City residents 65 and older were 15 times more likely to cast a ballot than younger residents between the ages of 18 and 34.

  • TURNOUT VARIES DRAMATICALLY AMONG NEIGHBORHOODS

    Voting “oases” and “deserts” are the norm. For example, more than 1 in 5 residents of Columbia, South Carolina live in voting deserts, areas where turnout is half (or less) than the citywide average.

Why
local
election
turnout
matters

“One person, one vote” is a core principle of American democracy for good reason.

When too few people elect local leaders, a small fraction of residents can have outsize influence in decisions about critical issues like schools, parks, housing, libraries, police and transportation.

There are more than half a million local elected officials in the U.S., and their decisions affect all of our lives. If more Americans participate in local elections—and local elections are set up to encourage broad participation—local officials will be held accountable to everyone they represent.