Mayors unite across state to promote civic engagement

Tennesseans once led the way on civic engagement, but today Volunteer State citizens vote far less regularly than most Americans.


Voter turnout in Tennessee consistently ranks near the bottom of the nation. The state was ranked 50 out of 50 for voter turnout in 2014 and 49 out of 50 in 2016.
When it comes to many local elections, turnout is particularly low.


Less than 25 percent of eligible voters participated in recent local elections in the state’s four largest cities with Memphis seeing only a 21.9 percent turnout in 2015, Nashville a 17.3 percent turnout in 2018, Chattanooga a 14.1 percent turnout in 2017, and Knoxville a mere 2.6 percent in 2015.


To combat this trend and share best practices for increasing civic engagement, several mayors across the state are joining ThinkTennessee to launch the Tennessee Mayors Growing Civic Engagement project.


Participating mayors will identify specific actions they can take to increase civic engagement, from deepening engagement with local youth by creating Mayor’s Youth Councils to convening community members to discuss the importance of civic participation.


Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder, one of the youngest city mayors in the state, said this engagement is vital to raising voter turnout.


“Our community will succeed with an increase of interest and participation in the political and governmental processes, and I am proud to join with fellow mayors across the state who share a vision for increased civic participation,” Molder said. “I am particularly interested in the engagement of our youth – an investment in the future leaders is an investment in the long-term vitality of our community. That’s what this effort aims to do.”


Over the course of the project, Shanna Singh Hughey, ThinkTennessee president, said her organization will provide mayors with individual guidance and facilitate a community of practice to help tackle common challenges and scale solutions.


“When it comes to increasing civic engagement at the local level, mayors know best,” she said. “We’re thrilled to help mayors from all parts of the state and both sides of the political aisle come together to help move Tennessee forward.”


At the end of the year, ThinkTennessee will share a summary report highlighting lessons learned and success stories from participating communities so that others might replicate what they achieved.


The Tennessee cohort is the first of its kind in the nation. Current participants represent the geographic and political diversity of the state and include the following:

  • Franklin Mayor Ken Moore,
    Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull (2019-) and former Mayor John Clark (2015-2019),
    Nashville Mayor David Briley,
    Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke,
    Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder,
    Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland,
    Chester County Mayor Barry Hutcherson,
    Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris,
    Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum, and
    Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson

For more information about the project, including how to become a participating mayor, please visit www.thinktennessee.org.