In Boston’s City Council elections, voter numbers have dwindled

Photo courtesy Pixabay

By Devyani Chhetri
BU News Service

BOSTON — Workers at the Dartmouth Street polling station in Ward Four, Precinct Two, couldn’t decide what was more frustrating– the rain, or the low voter turnout.  

“We just got 382 votes today,” said Carla Sheffield, 55, who was in charge of the polling station. 

Sheffield said that over 1,000 voters came for the preliminary vote back in September. But those numbers have dwindled. 

“I know that most didn’t turn up because of the weather, but a lot of them didn’t even know that city council elections were happening today,” she said. 

Sheffield, who has run polling stations since 2007, felt that the awareness generated around the elections was low this election season.

“I live by Ashmont in Dorchester and during my ride down here, I saw maybe two signs,” she said. 

One of her suggestions to City Hall this year would be to use social media to tell voters, especially young voters, that it was election day, she said. 

In the 2017 municipal elections, 698 out of 2,716 active voters from precinct two in the Back Bay area came out to cast their votes. This year, not only have the number of votes decreased, but also the number of active voters as per City of Boston election data

The lack of voting has a palpable effect on how the city runs, Sheffield said. She felt that the most glaring problem could be seen in the faces of the homeless across the street. 

Affordable housing is an issue that has been center-stage during this year’s municipal elections. With the median single-family home costing $640,000, Boston is constructing more houses that are unaffordable to families, reported the Boston Globe.

Candidates, led by incumbent Michelle Wu, have campaigned to abolish the Boston Planning and Development Agency overseen by Mayor Marty Walsh to reform the structure that keeps Boston’s homelessness crisis at a standstill, WBUR reported.  

Voting for an administration that fixes this issue was important, said Sheffield. But another worrying trend seems to challenge the city’s politics. 

“Seniors and middle-aged [voters] – they’re here faithfully,” she said. “Young people who probably just turned 18 and are out of high school come too. But there aren’t enough of them.”

A few steps away from the polling station sat Kenny A., 21, who wished to keep his surname limited to its initials to avoid negative attention. As the receptionist for the building where the polling was taking place, he had already directed close to 50 people towards the polling room. 

But Kenny, a resident of Roxbury, has never voted. 

“Everything happens in Roxbury and nothing ever changes,” he said. “You’ll hear news of someone getting gunned down every other day.”

During the last municipal elections in 2017, Roxbury’s crime rate was 74% higher than the national average, according to data available in the FBI Uniform Crime Report. Research as recent as May 2019 by the Boston Area Research Initiative found crimes related to gun prevalence were increasing in neighborhoods like Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester even as Boston’s overall crime rate was decreasing.  

“I don’t even know who the councilor in my area is,” he said. Neither his family nor his neighbors had ever stepped out to vote. 

He only came to know about the elections on Tuesday because he was working right next to a polling station. But he wondered if voting for the city council mattered and shook his head as if in deep thought. 

After a few seconds, he’d made up his mind. “I’d probably just vote for the president.”

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