The intense media spotlight on the small town of Ferguson, Missouri has given many of the town’s problems national attention. Much of it revolves around the vast racial difference between the city’s government and the city’s residents. Ferguson’s population is about 70 percent black, but you would never know it from looking at its elected officials and police force. Of seven city council members, six are white; of 53 police officers, 50 are white. And the mayor is a white Republican.
Ferguson also has an incredibly low voter turnout, especially for local elections. As ThinkProgress pointed out, Ferguson has an unusual elections calendar. Rather than having them during even-numbered years with state and national elections, Ferguson holds its local contests “annually on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in April” in odd-numbered years.
Voter turnout across the country is already low, even during presidential-election years. Holding awkwardly-timed elections certainly doesn’t increase participation. Last year, just 11.7 percent of Ferguson’s eligible population voted. Only six percent of eligible black voters cast a ballot; the white voter turnout was nearly triple that at 17 percent. The result is a local government whose demographics look nothing like the town it represents.
Several groups, plus Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have been calling on Ferguson’s residents to become more active in the election of their officials. Voter registration booths have popped up throughout the town. Given the images of protests turning violent, tear gas canisters being thrown, and people being arrested by cops who look like they are at war, you would think encouraging civic action that would give Ferguson’s black population a voice in government would be applauded by everyone.
The executive director of Missouri’s Republican National Committee, however, doesn’t see it that way. In an interview with Breitbart News, Matt Wills seemed outraged at the notion of voter registration drives.
“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Wills said. “I think it’s not only disgusting, but completely inappropriate.” He said the shooting death of Michael Brown isn’t just a tragedy for the black community but is a “tragedy for the Missouri community as well as the community of what we call America. Injecting race into this conversation … not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace.”
Actually, getting the residents of Ferguson more active in their community and government is exactly how to keep that conversation going. Much of the city clearly does not trust its government and law enforcement. Continuing that distrust by not encouraging civil engagement, let alone calling it disgusting, will only lead to more situations like the one Ferguson is currently in.
Wills is merely upset because he knows, as Rev. Jackson said on Monday, “5000 new voters will transform the city from top to bottom.” And change is never good for the Republican party.