Vancouver It’s that time of the cycle. Reporters are riding from paper to television shouting the warnings: the elections are coming! the elections are coming! the elections are coming! Time to hide the small children it seems. And, of course do everything possible to suppress the participation of lower income voters.
At the ACORN Canada board meeting, head organizer Judy Duncan, shared the results of a study commissioned by the Maytree Foundation called “Who Votes in Toronto Municipal Elections” by Myer Sieniatycki and Sean Marshall, which broke down the voting in all of the 44 wards of the city and across 140 identifiable neighborhoods. The authors looked at elections in 2003, 2006, and 2010. The one that the leadership studied the most closely though were the numbers in Ward 8 in the 2006 election where ACORN had done an extensive, pilot turnout effort fueled by ACORN campaigns to improve the landlord licensing program and increase the minimum wage.
Ward 8 is well known in the Toronto area. The ward has a population of almost 50,000 with close to 40% in poverty. Everyone knows the ward as the home of the Jane and Finch neighborhood and its extensive reputation as a center of social housing. Usually, when it comes to elections, you can write off Ward 8. In fact in this study it consistently ranked in the bottom 10 of Toronto neighborhoods in terms of voter participation. In 2003 and 2010 Ward 8 was in the lowest participation category with less than one-third voting in 2003 and less than 44% voting in 2010. But, when ACORN ran its program of intensive contact, door knocking, and issue focus in Ward 8 in 2006, bam, Ward 8 hit the top of the charts with the richest of Toronto’s wards with 50% turnout. It’s no surprise of course that when people actually do the work to engage lower income voters with issues and the elections, boom, they respond. Everyone doesn’t want this of course, but ACORN sure does, and when the opportunity presented, delivered with flying colors as documented in the Maytree report.
People still care. ACORN Bristol in England in the wake of an exciting first meeting with 100 people in the Easton neighborhood already heard members talking about whether they might have to run in local elections to get their voices heard. An email came zinging out of the blue the other day from people in Redding, California looking for help trying to register 500 new voters to make a difference in local elections there.
Resources may be thin, but peoples’ aspirations for using elections as a voice for those unheard and unheeded continues, and, when given a chance, people respond, as evidenced once again in Jane and Finch.