Backers of two measures to shift Los Angeles city and school board votes to higher-turnout election years declared victory Tuesday evening after an initial count showed the measures had lopsided leads in absentee ballots.
Charter Amendments 1 and 2, which would move L.A. elections from odd to even-numbered years to coincide with presidential and gubernatorial election cycles, was leading with 77% of the mail-in ballots, totaling more than 70,000 votes. The count of votes cast Tuesday, as well as late-arriving absentee ballots, was continuing.
Sponsors of the measures declared victory.
"This is a great win for the people of Los Angeles -- tonight they won back their elections from the special interests who have controlled local politics for far too long," said Dan Schnur, a co-chair of Citizens for Increased Voter Participation and former chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
"There's much more work to be done," he said, "but making people aware that an election is taking place is the first step toward getting them to participate."
Opponents argued the change would actually increase the sway of special interests and force local candidates to raise more money.
Just under 21% of registered Los Angeles voters marked ballots in the 2013 primary election, a race that featured an open mayoral seat and several contested City Council seats.
Voter turnout has been declining rapidly over the last few decades, and city officials have debated what to do about it.
At a recent state hearing, academic experts and community organizers suggested a number of potential remedies: increasing the amount of money the state gives to counties for voter outreach, expanding early voting and creating dispersed "community voting centers" to replace assigned polling places, do more targeted outreach to ethnic communities and infrequent voters who are often overlooked by political campaigns — and even requiring people to vote, as is done in Australia.