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Why Ferguson’s government is so white

Ferguson residents gather near a police line on August 11.
Ferguson residents gather near a police line on August 11.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Ferguson, Missouri, is 67 percent black, but only one of six council members is black and the mayor is white. So is the chief of police. This demographic discrepancy is one of the reasons the black community in the St. Louis suburb has felt misrepresented by its local government.

But how is that disparity possible? If two-thirds of the city is black, shouldn't there at least be more black council members?

The problem, MSNBC reports, is low voter turnout during local elections in March and April. "No one collects data on turnout by race in municipal elections. But the overall turnout numbers for Ferguson's mayoral and city council election are discouraging," writes MSNBC's Zachary Roth. "This year, just 12.3 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to numbers provided by the county. In 2013 and 2012, those figures were even lower: 11.7 percent and 8.9 percent respectively. As a rule, the lower the turnout, the more the electorate skews white and conservative."

This corroborates what Terry Jones, a political science professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis who closely follows local politics, recently told me via email. He wrote that the city's white residents "are on average older in age and have resided in Ferguson longer. As a result, I estimate the electorate participating in the April municipal elections remains majority Caucasian."

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