LA ELECTION 2022 - For such an important city, Los Angeles has a deeply flawed electoral system.
With only 15 city council members members to represent four million people, LA has the worst per-capita city council representation in the United States.
By comparison, Chicago has 50 city council members for 2.75 million people. New York City has 51 for 8.8 million people. For all you social democracy lovers, Stockholm has 101 members on its city council, representing 900,000 people.
With so many Angelenos represented by so few city council members, LA’s elections concentrate a great deal of power in very few hands; and as we’ve seen often in recent years, provide great incentive for corruption.
At the same time LA’s elections are often decided when voter turnout is lower and less diverse than necessary. That’s because Los Angeles uses an out-dated two-round ‘contingent’ June primary/November general election run-off system, instead of a single November general election by ranked choice voting, when turnout is higher and the electorate is more diverse.
On top of that, LA’s redistricting process is highly politicized. Its redistricting commission is appointed by sitting elected officials. Then a final redistricting map is approved by the sitting city council, including incumbents running for re-election voting whether to approve the very districts they will run in.
Greens believe these structural failings in LA’s electoral system should have been a central issue in this year’s Mayoral and City Council elections.
Dulce Vasquez understands that there is a crisis of democracy in Los Angeles — and is creative and open-minded in ways of dealing with it. That’s why the Green Party of Los Angeles County (GPLAC) supports her for Los Angeles City Council, District 9.
A larger LA City Council elected by ranked-choice voting
Under LA’s June/November contingent run-off system, the only time a race advances to a November general election - when turnout is higher and more diverse - is when a candidate doesn’t receive a majority in a June primary. If there are only two candidates in a primary, as is the case this year in LA City Council Districts 1, 3, 7 and 9, then the election will automatically be over in June.
“It’s extremely undemocratic not to have the top two go onto the general election in November”, Vasquez told City Watch LA in April. “Even if there are only two candidates in the Primary; both should face voters in November. Historically there’s a much lower participation rate in the primary with an election that is not fully representative of the voting population.”
Last February the GPLAC sent an electoral reform questionnaire to all candidates for City Council and Mayor. Vasquez was one of the few to return it - no incumbent did, and she was the only candidate in CD 9. Her answers were thoughtful and well-considered.
Vasquez proposes a series of pro-democracy reforms and supports an inclusive charter review commission process to consider these and other reforms, with the commission’s recommendations placed on the ballot for a public vote.
The GPLAC strongly agrees. Convening such a charter review commission would spur and focus needed dialogue about LA democratic deficits.
Vasquez wants to increase the number of seats on the LA City Council from 15 to 29. Such a larger number of seats, she says, would put LA on a per-capita par with San Diego and San Jose, the state’s next largest two cities, and give more voice to communities that are often overlooked within larger districts.
The GPLAC agrees with having a larger LA City Council, and would like to see a council considered in the 50+ member range, elected from three- or five- member districts by ranked choice voting. Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Riverside's School of Public Policy Stan Oklobdzija proposes a 75-member city council, with five members elected by ranked choice voting from each of the city’s 15 districts There will be a range of views on this topic. That’s why it’s important to have a charter review commission where there can be public debate - and to have a city council member willing to support creation of such a commission in the first place.
If voters were to approve a larger council via a charter review process, Vasquez supports an early redrawing of the City Council districts before 2032 - an aggressive move that gains Green support.
“Every voter should have their voices heard in City Hall and the current 15 district configuration doesn’t allow that for every Angeleno. Dr. King once said that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We cannot wait another decade for our fellow Angelenos to have their voice heard in local politics and to receive representation. By waiting until 2032 to provide equal representation to all residents of Los Angeles, then we would become complacent in harboring civic injustice upon our city.”
Vasquez also advocates electing the city council by ranked-choice voting (RCV), which would eliminate the ‘spoiler’ issue and lead to a majority winner in a single election - obviating the need for two rounds and placing the election before the greater number of voters in November.
But for Vasquez RCV goes further. “Ranked choice voting gives voters more ability to express their preference”, which in practice she reminds, has led to increased representation from communities of color and women, which in turn helps realize the goals of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).
Vasquez also supports making Election Day a public holiday and expanding public funding of elections by offering Democracy Vouchers worth a given dollar amount that they could pledge towards the candidates of their choice.
Vasquez is even exploring a borough-type system with five council members per district and a rotating delegate be the representative to City: "I believe this would significantly cut down the fiefdom-type mentality that has led to some of the corruption issues that have plagued the city.”
Independent redistricting - is it enough?
Dulce Vasquez is part the growing call for establishment of an an independent redistricting commission for Los Angeles. “Politicians should not have a say in who they want or don’t want to represent… I strongly believe redistricting should be a separate process from the influence of the currently elected.”
Back in March 2020, local voting rights, good government and other community groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (AAAJ), CA Clean Money Campaign, CA Common Cause, Ground Game LA, LA Forward, Represent Us LA-SGV and Unrig LA called for established of an in independent commission in time for the 2030 redistricting.
Amidst the contentious and highly politicized 2021 LA redistricting process, the LA Times came out with its own editorial in support: It’s time for Los Angeles to have a truly independent citizens redistricting commission.
Then in December 2021, LA Councilmembers Nithya Raman and Paul Krekorian introduced a motion that could lead to November 2022 ballot measure to amend the City Charter to create an Independent Redistricting Commission for the City of Los Angeles.
The motion requests the City’s Chief Legislative Analyst to “provide an analysis of the structure and performance of the independent redistricting commissions in place at the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, and other California jurisdictions, as well as best practices to ensure transparency and public participation - and return with recommendations within 90 days.”
The GPLAC lauds this motion and enthusiastically supports the establishment of an independent redistricting commission, especially one implementing best practices to ensure transparency and public participation. But nevertheless, the GPLAC believes that basing representation upon single-seat, winner-take all districts is itself fatally flawed.
Electing the City Council from multi-seat districts by proportional representation via ranked choice voting
Even with an independent commission drawing the lines, redistricting for single-seat districts will remain controversial, because it will always be at least a partially discretionary decision about which group of voters gets grouped with which others, in order to elect a single winner. A different choice in district lines can lead to a different result in terms of who wins representation and who does not under winner-take-all elections — no matter who draws the lines.
Under multi-seat district elections by RCV, this issue mostly goes away. With three- or five-member districts elected by RCV, different groups of voters will win representation at the same time within each district, in proportion to their numbers. Today, there are only absolute winners and losers over a single seat. The consequences of discretionary choices around multi-seat RCV district lines would be much different. The affect would be spread over multiple seats instead of one, and the results will be proportional within each district, regardless of how the lines are drawn.
If a controversial district line tradeoff did affect the final results, it would likely be around the margin of the last seat in a three- or five- seat district — rather than affecting the only seat representing an entire district as today. But even in a three- or five- seat district, the inverse of that choice will be reflected around the margin of the last seat in the neighboring district. So choices around district lines are more likely to balance out city wide.
Of course there would be many other benefits of multi-seat, RCV for Los Angeles, combined with a much larger city council:
- broader, deeper and more diverse representation, both within each district and city-wide;
- less expensive campaigns (because the threshold number of votes to get elected is much lower),
- better realization of the goals of the CVRA; and
- an enhanced role for Neighborhood Councils to relate to multiple council members in their district.
And… by having multiple representatives from each council district, this would remove the fiefdom/corruption incentive that LA has today from having a single gatekeeper council member for each district.
Why the Green Party is involved in this race
The Green Party believes that a viable multi-party democracy is necessary for the health of our democracy, and that the duopoly electoral system we operate under unduly restricts representation and voter choice. The Green Party focuses on developing itself as a progressive political option, while simultaneously working for electoral reforms like proportional representation and ranked-choice voting, that have enabled healthy multi-party democracies to develop all over the world.
GPLAC Bylaws provide for ‘endorsing’ Green Party candidates and ‘supporting’ non-Greens. When there is no Green running, if the GPLAC does look outside of its own members to support a candidate, it is with a precondition for progressive policies in general — but then specifically does the candidate ‘getting the big picture’ on electoral reform. Dulce Vasquez, a registered Democrat, is such a candidate.
Vasquez is progressive on housing and homelessness, transportation, the environment, green jobs and more. But she also understands that LA’s local government needs to be more substantially more representative of the people who live here — and changing how LA does its elections is a necessary part. Just as importantly, she supports an open and inclusive public process to help get there.
That’s why the Green Party of Los Angeles County supports Dulce Vasquez for LA City Council, District 9.
(Michael Feinstein is a former Santa Monica Mayor (2000-2002) and City Councilmember (1996-2004), a co-founder of the Green Party of California and a long-time South-Central Farm supporter.)