The Unexpected Left-Right Alliance That Could Prevent The Next Ferguson

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

People run from tear gas after police dispersed protesters in Ferguson on Sunday night

The city of Ferguson, Missouri’s government looks nothing like its people. Two-thirds of Ferguson’s population is black, but the city is run by a white mayor and an overwhelmingly white city council. As ThinkProgress explained last week, a major cause of this disparity is the odd time when Ferguson holds its municipal elections. Ferguson elects its leaders in April of odd-numbered years, a time when few voters typically turn out because there are no top-level races on the ballot — in 2013, for example, overall turnout was just 11.7 percent and only 6 percent of eligible black voters cast a ballot.

During the 2012 presidential election, by contrast, 55 percent of Ferguson’s voters turned out, and black voters turned out at virtually the same level as white voters.

In light of this disparity, we wrote that “the solution to the fact that Ferguson’s black majority is nearly unrepresented in its government could be as simple as rescheduling its municipal elections so that they are held in November of even-numbered years,” and we laid out the process Ferguson’s voters could use to amend their city charter to move the city’s municipal elections to a time when voters are likely to turn out.

On Sunday, this proposal gained support from an unlikely source — John Fund, a columnist at the conservative National Review. Fund is a staunch supporter of voter ID laws, laws that disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. (Fund defends these laws on the grounds that they are necessary to prevent voter fraud at the polls, even though such fraud barely exists.) Nor does Fund’s support for moving municipal elections to a time when voters are likely to turn out appear to be rooted in any particular sympathy for black voters in places like Ferguson. Rather, he argues that it would be useful to increase the size of municipal electorates because higher turnout would dilute the impact of union-run voter turnout operations, which would in turn diminish the clout of the unions.

So Fund is hardly the sort of ally supporters of greater representation for Ferguson’s black majority would typically look to in seeking to reform the city’s elections. But, in politics, one does not need to like their allies. They only need to be able to find common ground where common ground can be found. The fact that one of America’s leading conservative publications printed Fund’s endorsement of rescheduling elections in Ferguson is a hopeful sign that, should Ferguson’s residents seek to amend their city charter in order to move their election date, their efforts may not be met with scorched earth opposition by conservatives. And it is also a hopeful sign that this reform could spread to other communities whose population bears little resemblance to its government.