In the face of what he described as a depressing 13 percent voter turnout for last year’s City Council elections, City Councilor John Tobin is proposing that municipal elections be held on Saturdays.
“It’s time to try something different,” Tobin said in a Gazette interview.
He said that, while higher-profile city, state and federal elections tend to generate more interest than City Council contests, councilors probably have the most direct effect on their constituents’ day-to-day lives.
Holding elections on Saturdays would, he said, eliminate a major, and valid, excuse people have for not voting—that they have to work.
“A lot of people are going to work at 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. and getting home at the same time at night. They want to eat and spend time with their family,” Tobin said.
And, while some people do work and have other obligations on Saturdays, for most people, rationalizing not voting would be a lot tougher, he said.
A lot of excuses do not hold water, Tobin said, “when you see 95-year-old women struggling to get out of the car to go vote in the pouring rain.”
His proposal includes provisions for early balloting for those whose religion would preclude them from voting on Saturday, he said.
Conventional wisdom holds that increased voter turnout benefits non-incumbents, and Tobin said he personally welcomes challengers.
“I have never minded opposition. I have never called anyone to ask that they get out of the race,” he said.
Tobin’s unopposed bid for reelection last year was the first time since the local District 6 seat was created in 1983 there has only been one candidate.
The Saturday elections proposal has the support of Mayor Thomas Menino and the entire City Council, Tobin said.
It was one of three proposals he originally floated last year for municipal election reform. The other two—extending City Council terms from two years to four, so they happen at the same time as mayoral elections, and imposing term limits for councilors and the mayor—have not enjoyed such widespread support.
Tobin, who has been outspoken about his mayoral ambitions, said the proposals have nothing to do with his ambitions for higher office.
He is open to the possibility, he said, that current incumbents be exempt from term limits. “This is about increasing participation five, 10, 15 years down the road,” he said.
Of the three proposals, changing City Council terms from two years to four would be the most complicated. That proposal would require a home rule petition, subjecting it to approval by the state legislature and governor.
Tobin said he is currently working on scheduling a public hearing for all three proposals.
At the state level, the advocacy group MassVote is currently lobbying for a rules change that would allow people to register to vote at their polling place on Election Day. So-called “same-day registation” has increased voter turn out in a number of other states, according to MassVote’s web site.
While the statewide changes would effect all municipal, state and federal elections in the Commonwealth, Tobin’s proposal would only cover municipal elections in Boston.