I am glad to see more candidates talking about low voter turnout in local elections. In the last six city elections, voter participation has ranged from just 20.4 percent to 33.1 percent.
Compare that to the 64 percent voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election and the 45.5 percent turnout in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Many residents are more aware of national and statewide elections due to more substantial media exposure.
Local elections, on the other hand, have a much lower profile, regardless of how many signs go up around the city. As we all know, signs don’t vote ― residents need to know the election date, who the candidates are and what they stand for, and their polling location.
Many voters need rides or translation in order to make their voices heard. Many Lynners don’t vote because of instability in housing or work, or because they don’t believe their vote can change anything.
We need to show people that their voices really do matter. We need to involve the public by meeting them where they are and by connecting them with the city and community resources they need. Right now, the only options available are trying to navigate the out-of-date and confusing City website, or calling your City Councilor.
Lynn has 11 city councilors representing more than 100,000 people, and virtually no support staff. How can we expect our city to work efficiently when the main recourse for any problem is to call one of 11 people that are already getting too many calls about problems they need to handle?
We need to start acting like a city our size. To do so, I propose that the City Council should have a multilingual constituent-services staff. They can answer phones, help residents navigate City Hall and connect them to needed resources, and conduct year-round outreach in multiple languages about ongoing city projects, elections, and community meetings.
Instead of adding to our already-high tax burden, this staff can be built of volunteers like experienced elders or high-school students looking to give back or earn credits. We can work with grant writers, schools, and our city’s network of community organizations to financially sustain the program or provide stipends to volunteers that acknowledge their service.
A constituent-services team will also increase the work being done now by our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Officer to improve language access in City Hall.
Instead of having the onus be on a single city councilor, we would have support in addressing the needs of Lynn residents as they arise. With this program in place, councilors will have more time to focus on big-picture policy concerns like housing, attracting and supporting more jobs and businesses, and addressing our aging infrastructure.
Constituent services may seem like a lower priority compared to other challenges our city faces. But the low turnout in local elections shows the huge number of Lynn residents who feel marginalized, unheard, and forgotten.
We need a dedicated body of individuals ready, willing and able to bridge the gap between the 100,000-plus people currently living in the city and our 11-person City Council who simply do not have the capacity necessary to make sure all our voices are heard and all our needs are met.
A constituent-services program will not only help us start acting like a city our size, it will also provide much more capacity to City Hall, helping Lynn become a city that works for all of us.