Dan Morain

Why Glendale matters in race to replace Boxer

Julia Croteau of Rescue drops off her vote-by-mail ballot outside the El Dorado County Elections Department in 2008.
Julia Croteau of Rescue drops off her vote-by-mail ballot outside the El Dorado County Elections Department in 2008. Sacramento Bee file

If you’re handicapping the race to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate in 2016, factor in Armenian Americans of Glendale.

I’ll explain.

In statewide elections, Southern California should have the advantage. But though there are far more registered voters in Los Angeles County than in the Bay Area, Northern California candidates most often win. Too many Angelenos don’t vote.

Based on data provided to The Sacramento Bee by the consulting firm Political Data Inc., one reason why they don’t vote is that Los Angeles County is dead last in its use of vote-by-mail, with a notable exception, which I’ll get to shortly.

Bay Area counties have 3.4 million registered voters. L.A. County has 4.8 million voters. But 1.7 million Bay Area voters cast ballots in November, 200,000 more than voted in Los Angeles County.

The numbers were stark in the primary, too, when 569,621 Bay Area Democrats voted, compared to 434,752 L.A. County Democrats, according to Paul Mitchell of Political Data.

Mitchell calculates that if L.A. Democrats turned out in the percentages that Bay Area Democrats did in the June primary, there would have been 383,681 more votes cast by Democrats.

Former Speaker John A. Pérez, who represented Los Angeles, understands the implications. He lost the primary for controller by 481 votes to Betty Yee, a San Franciscan, who won the seat in November.

Granted, there wasn’t much to compel voters to go to the polls in California in 2014. Turnout will improve in 2016, a presidential campaign year. But the pattern has held true no matter the election cycle.

Theories abound for L.A.’s lackadaisical approach to voting. Poverty could be relevant. Mitchell attributes the dismal showing to the paucity of permanent absentee voters in Los Angeles County.

Bay Area voters embrace mail-in ballots. The percentage of L.A. County permanent absentee voters is last among the 58 counties.

“Remember, we are also only talking about registered voters,” Mitchell said in an email. “So, the argument can’t be about the high number of non-citizens in L.A., or the lower registration rates to begin with. The discussion, however, should be about how L.A. has chronically low absentee voter rates. That is definitely one of the drivers.”

Latinos are notably absent from the permanent absentee roles in Los Angeles County. Mitchell’s data show that only 10 percent of Latinos voted in the June primary, and only 26 percent of them are permanent absentee voters.

Contrast that with the heavily Armenian Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, where politicos long have encouraged vote-by-mail and where 40 percent of Armenian voters are permanent absentee voters. Turnout among Armenian Americans was 23 percent in Glendale, significantly above Los Angeles County’s overall turnout.

“You have to use every method available,” Glendale Mayor Zareh Sinanyan said. He’s one of two Armenian Americans on the City Council. Glendale’s elected clerk and treasurer are Armenian Americans, as are three school board members. “Anything to expand the democratic process.”

Alex Padilla, California’s new secretary of state, is from Pacoima and has ambitions for higher office. His chances could depend on his ability to expand turnout, particularly in Los Angeles County. More immediately, the data are relevant to the race to replace Boxer in 2016.

Geography could favor Attorney General Kamala Harris, who won her second term in November. She married a Los Angeles attorney last year and is living in Los Angeles. But she is from Northern California, having gone to UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, worked as an Alameda County prosecutor and served as San Francisco district attorney.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, another San Franciscan, is considering a run. He’s probably less well known than Harris, although the millions he could spend certainly would buy familiarity.

Southern California Democrats who must pay attention to the north-south voting patterns include former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County and Rep. Xavier Becerra. Becerra is a McClatchy High School grad but represents Los Angeles.

It’s a stretch to say that as go the Armenians of Glendale, so will go the next California Senate seat. But the data show that in a statewide contest, geography matters. So do postage stamps.

BY THE NUMBERS

Permanent absentee voters by county:

▪ Santa Clara, 71 percent

▪ San Mateo, 59 percent

▪ San Francisco, 53 percent

▪ Alameda, 51 percent

▪ Los Angeles, 30 percent

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