MHS Students Share Proposal to
Increase Voter Participation
By Linnet Tse
At the January 11 Zoom meeting of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit, four Mamaroneck High School (MHS) seniors presented their proposal to increase voter participation in the Village of Mamaroneck. Their project is an example of the work being done by students in MHS’s Original Civic Research and Action (OCRA) Program, led by Social Studies teacher and program founder, Joe Liberti.
Introducing the four-year OCRA program, Liberti said that it is designed to “create civically-minded problem-solvers for life.” By guiding the students as they “identify needs in their community and develop/implement community-based civic action projects with the assistance of local mentors/experts,” Liberti hopes to equip students with the civic leadership skills and capacity to “make positive change in their community.”
For students Daniel Marsh, Jackson Owen, Justin Solis, and Olivia Sundin, this project is the culmination of four years of work and has the potential to have a very positive impact on their community. The goal of their proposal is to increase voter participation in local elections.
In the Village of Mamaroneck (VoM), Justin explained that elections are currently held annually each November on Election Day. The two-year terms for the village trustees and the mayor are staggered, resulting in an election being held every year.
Analyzing data for the last ten years, the students found that local elections in the Village of Mamaroneck faced low voter turnout, particularly in off-cycle election years. (An off-cycle election year is one that is not aligned with Federal or mid-term elections.) Jackson shared that their analysis indicated that the average turnout for on-cycle elections was 37% higher than off-cycle elections.
Daniel pointed out that based on the VoM data, off-cycle elections have the additional issue of skewing the composition of the population voting towards white voters. According to their analysis, in VoM precincts with higher Hispanic populations, the voter turnout in off-cycle elections is lower than in districts with a higher white population.
To increase and broaden voter participation in local elections, the students developed a proposal that would align the timing of local elections with Federal elections, eliminating off-cycle elections altogether. Per their proposal, terms for trustees and the mayor would increase from the current two years to four years, with terms still being staggered. Justin noted that New York State Village Law allows a local Board of Trustees to make such changes by “permissive referendum.”
Their proposal has precedent. They shared three recent examples of municipal elections being aligned with the Federal election, in Baltimore, Austin, and Phoenix. They found that in all three cases, the turnout for elections in on-cycle years was 3-4 times higher than in off-cycle years.
As for lengthening terms from two to four years, Olivia pointed out that per NYS law, all towns have four-year terms for board members. She quoted Town of Mamaroneck Trustee Abby Katz, who, speaking in favor of four-year terms, said, “With a 4-year term you can advocate for projects and are there to steer them through to completion.”
In addition to increasing voter turnout, their research also suggested that aligning the timing of local and Federal elections would have the additional benefit of reducing costs, both to administrating bodies and voters themselves.
County Executive George Latimer applauded their efforts, suggesting that this is an important issue that goes beyond the Village of Mamaroneck. However, the County Executive expressed the concern that local issues and candidates could be subsumed under the broader presidential/gubernatorial discussion if local elections were always held at the same time as Federal/larger elections. He suggested that the students look into this potential issue further.
In terms of next steps, the students are working towards getting their proposal included as a referendum on the Village of Mamaroneck’s November 2022 ballot. Key will be securing the support of the current Village of Mamaroneck trustees. In 2021, they met with each Village Trustee to review their findings and discuss their proposal but ran out of time to get it on the 2021 ballot. They will be renewing those efforts shortly.
Asked how the community could be helpful, the students suggested that residents contact the VoM mayor and trustees to voice support for putting their initiative on the ballot in November. They are working hard to educate the community about their research and recommendations.
Note: The students’ presentation is on the Local Summit website: https://bit.ly/SummitPresentation_Jan11 .