Takoma Park has 8 registered voters in its homeowner-dominated wards for every 5 voters in the wards that concentrate the city’s rental apartment buildings. City wards are drawn to have near-equal population counts. In November 2011, according to the city’s certified election results, there were 6,744 voters registered Wards 1, 2, and 3 versus 4,024 registered in Wards 4, 5, and 6.
This wide disparity reflects low renter civic engagement. If you’re not registered, you can’t vote. The disparity has repercussions for every city, county, state, and federal election.
We can right the imbalance. The city council, backed by residents, has the power to change the rules. Let’s reweave the civic fabric to include renters in community and city affairs and strengthen the Right to Vote for everyone. Let’s take steps to boost election awareness and grow registration rates. It’s our job to encourage the electoral participation, as voters and perhaps as candidates, of our city’s renters, 44.7% of our neighbors, and of all of our fellow citizens.
Electoral change is an enabling step that, coupled with outreach efforts and with volunteer initiatives such as Takoma United, will change our city for the better. On the legislative front, here are steps we can take, steps the city council will discuss at its Monday, March 4 meeting and further consider in a public hearing and subsequent council meetings:
- Enact a city Right to Vote resolution.
- Modify the city charter to create Election Day voter registration for municipal elections.
- Modify the city charter to allow 16- and 17-year-olds, who are already eligible to register to vote, to vote in city elections.
- Require the city’s landlords to provide a city supplied electoral and civic information packet to new tenants. This packet would include voter registration forms — the state form for us by US citizens and the city form for use by non-citizens — and a Web link for online registration, and it would include information about city government and city elections. New tenants have just moved so we are certain they need to change voter registration to the new address or to newly register.
- Require landlords to allow candidates — and elected officials, voter-registration canvassers, and representatives of political parties and civic and community organizations — to door-knock in multi-unit apartment buildings.
We can and should do more. On the information front, the city could do a one-time packet distribution, via mail, to all tenants and to all homeowners as well, and we should use other available channels — for instance, a repeat of our work last fall with school PTAs to get 2012 general-election information to parents — to engage residents about city elections.
These elements are all pieces in a larger community-building puzzle that aims not only to broaden the voter rolls but also to promote neighborliness, participation in community groups and city committee, and electoral candidacies. Information and steps to make voting easier are a start, but they are not enough. The hard part of inclusion is outreach. I’ll try to do my part.
For now, please support the electoral items before the council. Communicate your comments and suggestions to your council representative, or to the council as a whole via firstname.lastname@example.org.