Fixing the Problem of Low Voter Turnout in US Local Elections: A Data-driven Solution
New LOCelections Whitepaper Now Available
Early in 2016, U.S. Vote Foundation began a research and development effort in the area of local elections dates and deadlines information. We examined how best to create the nation's first reliable and comprehensive local elections database resource. The effort is now being developed into a full-scale initiative for the foundation, and an extension of our Civic Data and API offering. The new LOCelections Whitepaper discusses the challenge of low voter turnout in local elections and presents US Vote's rationale and strategy for this new initiative.
Low voter turnout, especially in local elections, is the dirty little secret of the U.S. democratic system. The increasing low rates of participation – in many local races overall turnout can be measured in single digits – continues despite the enormous impact local government has on the day-to-day lives of citizens and the over $1 trillion in public funding dispersed at the local level.
While many reasons exist for low voter turnout, one of the most salient factors is the complexity of the U.S. voting ecosystem. There are over 90,000 local governments nationwide, and tens of thousands of local elections take place across the country every year. This complexity lends itself to an enormous information gap that significantly complicates the task of being an informed voter. Knowing what or who is on the ballot, much less where and when and how to vote, becomes daunting tasks that are effective barriers to local voting.
U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote), a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the proposition that “every citizen is a voter” is building a new solution to this problem. US Vote’s local election dates and deadlines data service, named “LOCelections”, has been designed to be the repository of record for information on dates, deadlines, and eligibility for all US local elections. The LOCelections data resource will contain information on local election dates, deadlines, eligibility, and other key data from across the country to enable intelligent, informed voting at the local level and to help improve local voter participation.
US Vote doesn’t do this alone: LOCelections is built in part on US Vote’s decade-long relationship with thousands of local election officials across the country. While LOCelections is a work in progress, US Vote and its partners believe that as LOCelections mature it will become an essential tool to help enable increased voter participation across the U.S.
Importantly, while US Vote provides LOCelections-based services directly on its website, LOCelections is designed to be used by third-party voter services providers. Providing this access, through a database application programming interface, or API, allows US Vote to continue its ongoing mission to support organizations that provide voter services. Licensees of US Vote’s data span a wide gamut of organizations, including voter outreach organizations, individual states, national campaigns, and corporations interested in helping employees, particularly expatriates, with their voting needs.
In addition to these traditional US Vote licensees, LOCelections will have significant use in academic research as a resource for comparative and longitudinal studies of voting behavior. Media organizations looking for nationwide information on local voting will also be able to make use of LOCelections.
There are many reasons for a lack of voter participation, but unfortunately, these problems are deeply entrenched and do not lend themselves to easy remediation. Tackling the problem of the information gap, however, is the one solution that can be implemented now. US Vote is in the process of implementing that solution in the form of LOCelections. We welcome your help and participation in this effort.