In the six weeks since the Nov. 4 election, much has been said about its extraordinarily low, record-shattering voter turnout.
Scarcely 42 percent of California’s 17.8 million registered voters, and just 31 percent of its 24.3 million potentially eligible voters, actually cast ballots.
It resulted, one could say, from the perfect calm – no hot statewide candidate races or blood-boiling ballot measures to spur voters into doing their civic duties.
Nevertheless, it also continued a decades-long slide in California’s voter turnout, which is one of the nation’s lowest, and generated some political palaver about what might be done to raise it to more respectable levels.
That’s particularly true in Los Angeles County, which has more than a quarter of the state’s population and is dead last – by a long shot – in voter turnout. Just 31 percent of its registered voters cast ballots in November, and less than a quarter of its potential voters.
Even so, that was downright vigorous compared to the turnouts in Los Angeles’ city and school board elections, which are held in March of odd-numbered years, followed by runoffs in May.
When Eric Garcetti won what had appeared to be a high-octane runoff battle with Wendy Greuel to become mayor of Los Angeles last year, just 23 percent of the city’s registered voters participated.
Polling and other studies have shown that Latinos, who are a majority of Los Angeles’ population, have particularly low participation levels in local elections.
Herb Wesson, a former speaker of the state Assembly who now is president of the Los Angeles City Council, has made raising local voter turnout a personal cause, saying it’s a civil rights matter.
Last week, Wesson and his council colleagues placed two measures in next March’s city election – when turnout is expected to be even lower than it was in 2013 – to shift city and school elections into even-numbered years, merging them with statewide general elections.
That would raise turnout for city and school elections but any change in election procedures, particularly anything that affects turnout, also would have bottom-line impacts.
Shifting Los Angeles’ city and school elections into even-numbered years certainly would make it easier for more liberal, union-oriented candidates to win elections and re-elections.
It also would make voter passage of union-backed ballot measures, particularly tax increases and bond issues, easier. Tax increases were rejected in the last two Los Angeles city elections, which both had ultra-low turnouts.
Merging local elections with statewide voting would have another effect that some Los Angeles politicians might regret.
It would end the “free ride” that local officials have had in running for statewide offices, the Legislature, Congress or even county offices without giving up their current positions.