Lowell Votes Public Meeting April 25th, 2022
Lowell, Massachusetts has great potential to improve voter engagement through technological solutions. To do so would require bringing its diverse community, local non-profits, government and politicians together with UMass Lowell, which in and of itself wields a massive influence on the city. This presentation assesses these stakeholders and their impact as well considers possible funders and technological partners for amplifying community voice. – Aloysius Cunningham, Tulane University
Letters from Lowell Votes (2022)
We are dismayed with how the new City Manager hiring process has been conducted thus far, and are writing to express our concerns.
As you are aware, Lowell Votes is a nonpartisan multilingual Coalition working to ensure our government is representative, responsive, transparent and accountable to the people and the community it serves. We envision a local civic infrastructure and local government that is transparent and proactively engages residents regardless of their background, in civics education and participatory democracy. We envision a welcoming accessible government that fosters trust and shared responsibility, producing a democracy that meets the needs, opportunities and challenges facing our diverse communities.
While the community requests a fair and open process to ensure qualified applicants will be considered for this important role, we understand that under the Plan E Charter, you have sole discretion in hiring the City Manager. We have been most concerned about the public perception that there is a well-connected candidate who all but has the job locked up, and that the search process will not be fairly conducted. We are already aware of several well-qualified candidates who are opting not to apply because of media coverage and public comments that there is a clear favorite. Link to full letter.
Lowell has long been defined by our commitment to civic engagement. That commitment has benefitted from cross-sector collaboration by many partners including the City of Lowell, UMass Lowell, Great Lowell Community Foundation, the Lowell Plan, Neighborhood Groups, Lowell Votes, and many nonprofits who work hard to educate and empower voters. A strong democracy and commitment to inclusion helps all of our missions and causes alike.
Many of us have worked for decades to empower and educate voters while working to reduce barriers to voting. Sadly we continue to see many barriers between Lowell voters and their right to vote. These barriers include the 20-day voter registration cutoff period, language equity in communications and education of civics with residents in the neighborhoods, the inactive voter list, and access to polling locations. About 54% of residents in Lowell are renters and tend to move at a higher rate than homeowners. This causes an increase in need for those who need to update their voter registration information or to address clerical errors. This need is unique to Lowell and other gateway cities. Link to full letter.
I believe that if you have an opinion on an important issue, it’s our duty as citizens to speak up when you can rather than gripe or second guess the decision later. I also believe in representative government and that we elect our City Council to make decisions on behalf of all of us; they have stood up to take on the tough jobs of getting elected and weighing matters to find the best path forward, and I respect their courage in taking on that public leadership role. I will also respect their decision on the next City Manager. But first I’ll contact the councilors to share my own thoughts on the type of leader we need in our next City Manager and the process for selecting that leader. And I would ask you to provide them with your thoughts too.
All the best,
In 2021, The Theodore Edson Parker Foundation paid a total of $1,192,150 in grants to nonprofit organizations at work in Lowell, Massachusetts, and pledged a total of $530,000 for payment in 2022.
Funded projects include a capacity-building grant to a coalition of Lowell-based agencies (Lowell Votes, Coalition for a Better Acre, Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, Latinx Community Center for Empowerment, the Merrimack Valley Project, the Lowell Alliance as well as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights) for voter education efforts related to the City of Lowell’s conversion to a district-based municipal electoral system. Link to full press release!
Massachusetts voters made great strides toward equitable representation in city halls in 2021. Michelle Wu is the first person of color and first woman elected as mayor of Boston. Thu Nguyen is the first Southeast Asian elected to Worcester City Council and the first non-binary elected official in Massachusetts. After a lawsuit ended the discriminatory at-large voting system in Lowell, Corey Robinson was elected the first Black city councilor, and an unprecedented three Cambodian Americans will serve on the city council, two from new district seats. Majority Latinx Holyoke elected Joshua Garcia, the first Latino to serve as mayor.
The Massachusetts Voter Table asked the Democracy HUBS partner organizations about their Most Valuable Players of civic engagement in 2021. We received 41 heart-felt submissions that showed genuine admiration and gratitude for the work of trusted leaders, who ensured that their neighbors cast ballots in the historic municipal elections. Link to full report! (Lowell Votes team members featured on pages 5-6).
The foundation of our democracy relies on listening and advocating for the voices that are often silenced and ignored. Our country looks quite different from when the Founding Fathers constructed the Constitution–demographics have changed, technology has advanced, and our population has increased exponentially. As a result, it has become increasingly important to ensure that all people have access to voting booths and representation in government on both a national and local level. While constitutional amendments have tried to expand these rights to vote to all people in the US, many state laws continue, well past the Civil Rights Era, to hinder these actions. Such restrictions disproportionately affect low income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) voices from being heard and represented.
Lowell’s current Asian population makes up the largest, non-white racial demographic, at 23%. Hispanic or latinx residents make up over 18% of Lowell while Black or African American residents make up over 8%. Voter turnout rates in Lowell have varied from region to region. For example, in the outermost regions of the city, comprising a generally older population, the voter turnout rate is relatively high at 50-55% for local elections and 46-48% for all elections. Comparatively, turnout rates in central Lowell are significantly lower ranging from 14% to 30%. A study found that median household income was directly correlated with voter turnout rates, meaning higher household incomes would indicate a higher likelihood of voting in elections. In regards to race and ethnicity, this same study found a negative relationship with non-English speakers or non-white individuals and voter turnout. Link to full article!
The COVID-19 pandemic uncovered deep inequities in Massachusetts. These inequities manifested
in a lack of testing in Gateway Cities; a tradeoff between joblessness and disposability for many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) workers; and a fatality rate three times higher among Black and Latinx residents than white and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) residents.
Responding to structural underrepresentation and barriers to civic engagement in communities of color in Lowell, the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, Coalition for a Better Acre, and Lowell Alliance formed Lowell Votes in 2014. Link to full report! (Lowell Votes feature on pages 10-11)