November 12, 2021 | Priya Elangovan
At AIT, we focus on helping women understand how politics and government impact their lives, focusing especially on the state and local factors that we interact with every day. All politics are local, but concerning data from the most recent elections make it clear that Americans are not nearly focused enough on local politics. After record-high voter turnout in 2018 and 2020, there was a major decline in turnout in state and local elections this year.
State and local elections have historically had a much lower turnout than presidential elections, proving that many Americans don’t appreciate that local races have a much bigger impact on our daily lives. On average, voter turnout in Presidential Election years is about 60%, and Midterm Election years is about 40%. However, a 2016 study by Portland State University found that in local elections across the 100 largest cities in the United States fewer than 15% of voters were turning out to elect mayors and city council candidates. Low turnout elections are less representative of their communities, with older and more affluent voters being overrepresented and minority and young voters being underrepresented. In fact, low turnout in local elections can lead to candidates winning by single digits, or in the event of a tie, being selected by drawing a name from a bowl, which happened this year in Portland, Maine. It should be concerning because local officials have the power to decide everything from speed limits on local roads, to the budgets of police, fire, and other local departments.
The 2021 elections have continued the post-2016 trend of higher voter turnout generally, but 20-30% voter turnout is still far from where voter participation should be. Voter turnout in New Jersey’s statewide elections has been on a downward trend for almost a century, despite a steady increase in the number of voters in the state. The turnout in 2021 is likely to be just slightly under the 2017 turnout of 39%. This is despite New Jersey having one of the highest turnout rates in the 2020 Presidential election, with 75% of the Voting Eligible Population casting a ballot.
While New York City saw a number of historic elections in 2021, including the election of its first majority women city council, first muslim member, first south asian members, and first gen-z council member, voter turnout in this election, was lower than the previous two mayoral races in 2017 and 2013. This trend of low voter turnout and a decline in voter turnout is similar to local races in Boston, which saw Michelle Wu historically elected as the first woman and first Asian-American mayor, and across local races in Ohio, which saw voter turnout below 30%.
Virginia was the only state in the recent elections that bucked the national trend of declining turnout. Perhaps because of the national attention on the Governor’s race, Virginia’s 2021 election saw the highest turnout in a state election in over 20 years, with about 55% turnout. Even so, that still represents a marked decrease from the 75% turnout among registered voters in the 2020 elections. The makeup of the electorate was also different from 2020. Young voters (18-29) made up 17% of the overall electorate in 2020 but only 10% of the electorate in the 2021 Virginia race. The share of voters over 45 increased from 60% of the 2020 electorate to 69% of the 2021 elections.
Our goal at All In Together is to increase women’s civic participation across the board but especially in state and local politics. A series of focus groups conducted by the Knight Foundation and our friends at Lake Research Partners focused on examining why Millennials in particular do not vote in local elections. One of the main takeaways from that study was that Millennials don’t engage due to a lack of access to information about local elections and the way local government affects their lives. Our civic education training helps illustrate exactly that, and provides tools and resources to influence local officials and policies. We have helped women across the country connect with their local representatives and agencies. Our focus in 2022 will be to continue and expand that work, you can learn more and sign up to volunteer here!
Registered voters in NJ: 6,575,904
- 2,576,742 Ds
- 1,506,450 Rs
2,372,518 ballots cast in the governor’s race
2020 elections – 4,635,585 ballots cast (75% turnout
VA: 3,263,429 ballots cast for gubernatorial race 2021
2020 elections 4,523,142 ballots cast 2020 elections
NYC: registered voters 5,586,318
Mayoral race ballots 1,016,663
Minneapolis – 145,337 ballots cast in 2021 – 49.6% turnout
- The city had an 81.3% voter turnout in the 2020 elections
- 292,871 registered voters in Minneapolis as of November 3, 2020
- Increase in turnout from the 2017 (42.45%)