How Government Worker Unions Manipulate Municipal Elections

Liberal special interests have a strong hold on many municipal governments and government departments. School boards are the most prominent example.

The teachers union’s endorsement frequently determines the winner of school board races. The endorsed board members do the union’s bidding, as school closures and eternal mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate.

Liberal partisans think voter suppression when conservatives pass legislation ensuring that every eligible voter only casts one private ballot. These liberal special-interest groups can exploit electoral systems once they are in power.

Teachers unions play an organization game that rewards professional mobilisation over majority support. They and other progressive specialties take advantage off-cycle municipal election, nonpartisan races and block voting and similar balloting method.

Teachers unions, and other practitioners of organization play, gain an advantage when the elections that they care about are the only one in town on a given day.

The turnout for off-cycle elections that are not held during the every-other November federal election cycle is always lower. The motivated core of loyal, paying-dues supporters (like the teachers union membership) that an organized interest commands has more weight than during a presidential election or congressional midterm.

It’s simple mathematics. In 2019, 523,804 people voted in Chicago’s early-April off-cycle mayoral runoff election. If every member—28,245 of them—of the Chicago Teachers Union voted in that electorate, the Chicago Teachers Union commands over 5% of the electorate.

The number of Chicago ballots was more than 1.1million in the 2020 presidential election. If the mayoral election were held concurrently, the Chicago Teachers Union’s theoretical bloc of voters would halve in proportion.

The Manhattan Institute released an article reportRecommending the alignment of municipal elections with federal or state general elections. Reviewing academic research, its author concluded that “not only are local governments elected off-cycle chosen by fewer and less representative citizens … they are less likely to authentically represent the will of democratic majorities in their community.”

But off-cycle elections aren’t the only way teachers unions can use municipal election weirdness to their advantage. Nonpartisan races can also be a benefit to permanently organized interests. This can lead in some cases to school boards being elected that are completely out of sync with the communities.

In a partisan race, the average voter has a simple identifier of which candidate is closer to the voter’s views: the party label. In a nonpartisan race, this identifier is gone.

Additionally, party committees and local, state, as well as national, political parties push money and operational support to elect partisan candidates. In nonpartisan races, they usually don’t and may even be prevented from doing so by law.

Teachers unions, as well as other government worker unions, can provide financial and operational support. Infamously, the teachers union endorsement—the “apple ballot”—can be near-determinative for election to a nonpartisan school board.

That endorsement not only comes with the coveted “educator endorsed” tag, but also campaign funds, slate-cards, and door-knockers—the sort of stuff that political parties do in normal elections that are denied to the unions’ opponents in the “nonpartisan” race.

The method of election is the final piece in the union-advantage puzzle. American federal elections and most states’ legislative elections are conducted by some form of single-member district election (by “first past the post”—most votes wins—in most states and ranked-choice voting in a handful).

Block voting is used in many local elections. Block voting allows voters the freedom to vote for as many candidates or seats as they want. The candidates with the highest number of votes win.

This is a huge advantage for organized interests, who can endorse whole slates of candidates and move voters in favor of them, while disorganized opponents may under-vote or cast votes unknowingly for the slate that they don’t support.

What happened in Washington County, Maryland, a Republican stronghold, is one example of how block voting and nonpartisan races can create results out of alignment with a community’s interests. The teachers’ union slate won the block-elected school board races and, as a result, in the fall of 2020 the county kept its public schools locked down.

Democrats and their government worker union allies argue that Republican voter-integrity rules and conservative voter-integrity laws constitute voter suppression. The reality of municipal elections shows that liberal interests effectively play the election-rules-manipulation game ruthlessly and efficiently.

The Daily Signal offers a variety perspectives. This article is not meant to represent the views of The Heritage Foundation.

You have an opinion on this article? Please email to share your thoughts. [email protected] and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Be sure to include the article’s URL, headline, and your name.