L.A. Now

It's not just L.A. -- other major cities struggle with low voter turnout

Less attention is paid to elections held at the municipal level than to presidential elections

Los Angeles is not the only city struggling with low voter turnout.

Turnout in New York’s 2013 mayoral race was 26% and last week’s mayoral race in Chicago garnered 34% turnout, according to unofficial results.

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.

Presidential elections receive a tremendous amount of money and media attention, and voters often believe it’s the election that will have the greatest impact on their lives, said Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and a fellow at the Brookings Institution. But much less attention is paid at the municipal level.

“It’s often these local governments that determine policy issues about policing, education, transportation, infrastructure, all of these things that more directly relate to people’s everyday lives than who the president of the United States is,” McDonald said, noting many voters don’t make that connection.

That wasn’t always the case, McDonald said, noting that there was greater participation at the local level in the 19th century, when cities had strong party systems.

“Much of the social fabric was built around political parties and these political machines that operated at the time were paying people for their votes, and if they weren’t paying for them, they were organizing them in a mass way to participate,” he said.

There may not be much that local election officials can do to increase turnout.

“Mail balloting seems to be one solution,” McDonald said. “The other is just holding an interesting election, but we really can’t dictate holding an interesting election.”

L.A. voters on Tuesday approved 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. Backers hope this will boost voter turnout.

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