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LA Has Third Worst Voter Turnout in California … Skelton Says Election ‘Not Sexy’

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PARKS’ PLACE-Did you vote Tuesday? Yea, me neither. 

Just kidding. 

According to the Secretary of State’s website, for the November 4 General Election there were 4,897,915 registered voters and 1,147,248 votes cast in LA County. Voter turnout was 23.4% in L.A. County. We didn’t have the lowest turnout in the state but unsurprisingly we’re pretty down there. 

You can check out the semi-official election results here 

I’m not even going to begin to speculate why people decided not to vote Tuesday. But the three most prevalent reasons I’ve heard that defer people from voting include:

● Being turned off by campaigning tactics designed to suppress the vote and confuse the public (hello prop 47)

● The blank checks written by Political Action Committees(PACs), Super PACs and independent committees that overwhelm the process

● The lack of candidates that are distinctive and of quality (so many examples)

It didn’t help that the election wasn’t ‘sexy’ as George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times said. True, we didn’t have to vote on taxing sugary drinks, or banning fracking, or regulating medical marijuana (which the federal government is just not touching huh?). 

California was unscathed by the kind of red wave experienced by other states. If Tuesday’s election proved anything, it’s that there are real implications to apathy and if enough of us vote, we can shake things up. Everyone’s being gracious and congratulatory now, but the President is going to go to an irreversible shade of gray dealing with this Republican Senate and Congress for his last two years in office. 

Friday, October 31 Council heard the proposal for a potential measure to be placed on the March 3, 2015 ballot that would change the city charter to move primary and general election dates (for LAUSD elections too) to June and November of even-numbered years beginning in 2020.  

I voted no because I believe it's an error to give total control of the city's local elections for candidates and ballot measures to the county at an unknown cost and unknown technology. 

The election year change also provides a select few council members (those elected to office in 2015) the ability to avoid term limits by increasing their terms by two years (for a total of 14 years), rather than the current charter requirements of 12 years (five current incumbent council members voted to benefit themselves).
 
Research supports that more voters turnout for even-year state and federal elections, but research also documents that even with the larger turnout, there has been little or no voting increase on local issues or local candidates.

Even supporters of this change acknowledge the change does not get at the causes of declining voting, it only addresses a symptom, much as many other recent changes to our voting process (e.g. term limits, top two, instant runoff, matching funds, etc.)

In my history in this city, some of our worst public policy moments have been created when ill-conceived ideas are supported because of a 'this is better than nothing', or 'we gotta do something' attitude. 

I firmly believe that concentration on unlikely voters will do more to increase voting then all of the above than solely focusing on likely voters and expansion and assistance on the current Vote by Mail process.
 
City elections are currently in odd-numbered years. The reasoning behind this proposal is that changing our elections to even-numbered years is a surefire way to increase voter turnout. Everyone will love it, there’ll be dancing in the street, and the lines outside polling places will mimic people trying to get in to the latest, hottest, Hollywood club. 

Hmmm…if 23% in the County turned out to vote Tuesday in an even-numbered year, what makes you think Los Angeles voters are going to immediately get this urge to vote just because their local election has been combined with a state and federal one? 

You could change the election year, put polling places inside of Chuck-E-Cheese’s, give away free puppies, it doesn’t matter. I’m beginning to think that before anyone suggests changes to elicit higher voter turnout, they need to take a psychology class. 

I don’t know if an overarching goal of this proposal includes reducing the cost of elections on governments. It’s true that elections cost millions (the LAUSD election for district 1 that Dr. George McKenna was recently elected to cost upwards of $1.8 million) and the return on investment, having people actually vote, has been miniscule. But it has yet to be proven that it will be cheaper for the city to consolidate its elections with the County of Los Angeles. 

The truth is, combining elections will come at a greater cost and voters will pay the price. 

Candidates will be tripping over each other for funding and your attention. You thought the swarm of television and radio ads for Tuesday’s election was bad, wait until you have 30-some odd people wheeling and dealing for this and that office, this and that proposition. 


 

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June Lagmay, former Los Angeles City Clerk, is on the Municipal Election Reform Commission and she, along with two other commissioners, issued a report in opposition to moving the city’s election year. I applaud her for taking a stand and she knows what she’s talking about.  

I hope we turn this low turnout trend around in time for the City of Los Angeles Primary Election on March 3, 2015. Local elections in a way are more impactful on our daily lives than larger national elections. LA City Votes is a voter outreach and education campaign that the City Clerk's Election Division has put together to empower and educate voters. If you want to rally the troops to get out the vote for the 2015 election for even-numbered council districts (mine included) please explore getting involved with the campaign.
 
You can’t be forced to vote in the United States yet, but maybe that day is coming. Council is scheduled to rehear the proposal tomorrow, Friday, November 7.

 

(Bernard Parks is Los Angeles Councilman for the 8th Council District. He is also  former Los Angeles Police Chief. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 90

Pub: Nov 7, 2014

 

 

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