Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Would Participatory Budgeting Boost Anemic Voter Turnout in the City of St. Louis?

Many City of St. Louis politicians talk a good game while other politicians, much more quietly, make good things happen. For so many of the talkers, the default explanation for why their ideas don't get implemented is that St. Louis City's government and politics are fractured into fiefdoms that are controlled by hard-headed pols. Of course, this default explanation never seems to apply to those pols who tender it.

In the 2013 race for Alderman of the City's 6th Ward, Christine Ingrassia soundly defeated Michelle Witthaus by a 2-1 margin. After such a sound victory, Ingrassia could have taken-on Conan the Barbarian's philosophy. But she didn't. Instead, Ingrassia immediately reached-out to Witthaus in order to collaborate on what was largely the raison d'ĂȘtre of Witthaus' aldermanic campaign: participatory budgeting in the 6th Ward.

The collaboration between two former rivals, one electoral victor and one electoral defeated (and don't forget dozens of volunteers and the community at large), has proven to be soundly successful. The 6th Ward's experience with participatory budgeting is especially encouraging because of the 6th Ward's socioeconomic diversity. For a City of St. Louis increasingly segregated along lines of race and social class on the macro and the micro level, the 6th Ward provides an example to follow.

So where in the City of St. Louis should participatory budgeting go next? What would make most sense to me are those City wards where municipal political participation is most anemic. In such wards, citizens apparently aren't connected and therefore not invested in their City government. Participatory budgeting would foster a powerful social and political opportunity for citizens to get directly connected and therefore invested.

In the March 2013 Democratic primary for Mayor of the City of St. Louis, the mean (average) total raw vote for a City ward was 1573. Below, I express each ward's mayoral raw vote turnout as a percentage of the mean (1573), listing the lowest raw turnout first.

Ward 20: 50%
Ward 25: 61%
Ward 19: 69%
Ward 17: 76%
Ward 22: 76%
Ward 09: 76%
Ward 18: 77%
Ward 11: 82%
Ward 05: 83%
Ward 04: 84%
Ward 14: 86%
Ward 07: 87%
Ward 02: 91%
Ward 03: 94%
Ward 10: 96%
Ward 26: 97%
Ward 24: 98%
Ward 15: 104%
Ward 13: 106%
Ward 01: 107%
Ward 27: 110%
Ward 28: 114%
Ward 08: 116%
Ward 21: 122%
Ward 06: 133%
Ward 23: 137%
Ward 12: 157%
Ward 16: 185%

Of course, some of these wards had down-ballot aldermanic contests while others did not. Still, the mix of even-and-odd-numbered wards at both the top and the bottom of the rankings indicate that attribution of such a down-ballot contest explanation does not suffice. I can't help but see in these rankings that there are wards where citizens are connected and therefore invested in their City government and wards where citizens are not.

Why not do participatory budgeting in the three most anemic turnout wards (20, 25 and 19)? Perhaps connected citizens would translate into invested citizens. Perhaps each of these three wards would surpass 75% of the mean next Mayoral election.

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