L.A. residents explain why they did -- or didn't -- go to the polls

L.A. residents explain why they did -- or didn't -- go to the polls
Voting booths sit empty at Wilshire Vista Manor in Los Angeles on Election Day. Turnout in the city's primary election Tuesday was less than 10%. (Anne Cusack)

Riva Kim, 38, an attorney and downtown resident, was one of the fewer than 10% of registered voters who cast ballots in Tuesday's Los Angeles city election. She was surprised to hear that she was part of a tiny minority.

“Really? That’s terrible,” Kim said when told of the low turnout. She said she found it easy to vote by mail and had been particularly interested in the race between City Councilman Jose Huizar and former Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina to represent her district.

As a mother of two, Kim said she is concerned about safety downtown, as well as development and amenities for residents. That led her to cast a ballot for Huizar.

"I think he's done a good job in what he's done for downtown," she said.


Some of the many Los Angeles residents who didn't vote cited a lack of faith in government or lack of time to follow the issues.

Peggy-e Martin, 57, of South Los Angeles said she is not registered to vote because she believes the "outcome will be the same" no matter who is elected.

"It's not because I'm stupid," said Martin, executive director of the Family Connection Inc., which lists its mission as cleaning up the streets of South Los Angeles and skid row. "I just don't believe in the system."

Earl Cohen, 78, a self-described "true Democrat," skipped voting, opting instead to run errands because he did not feel inspired by the candidates.

"I was not motivated," the Fairfax resident said. "I was not turned on by the people who were running."

He was unaware of the City Council election until he received a mailer a few weeks ago. He said he wished there were more forums, debates and information on the issues and the candidates to help him stay engaged in the races.

"I still don't know what any of these people were about," he said.

Others, including Eliza Fisher, a 23-year-old tutor from Miracle Mile, said they were embarrassed that they had not cast a ballot. Fisher said she is registered but did not vote in Tuesday's election.

"I felt like I didn't pay enough attention and it would be silly to vote without being informed," she said.

And some people, like Eric Narcho, 50, just forgot that Tuesday was Election Day.

Narcho, a retired carpenter living in Echo Park, said he normally stays up to date on local politics and votes in every city election. He vaguely recalled getting some election materials in the mail this time.

"I've been really busy, family stuff," he said. "I probably glanced at it and so much happened in my day-to-day stuff that it slipped my mind."

Narcho and Fisher said they thought moving city elections to even-numbered years would help boost turnout. Two Charter Amendments to do that passed.

Ron Reeks, 51, of West Adams, also said he didn't know the election was happening.

"I didn't see any commercial or ads," he said. "They didn't spend the money to connect with the people. I didn't know any of the candidates."

Reeks said it's possible that he simply tuned out the race. During past elections he noticed that candidates ran on trivial issues like fixing potholes and construction, while failing to address quality of life issues such as affordable housing, crime and education.

"Those are the most important issues to me," he said.

Mike Ayen, 51, a security guard and Western Heights resident, said the hustle and bustle of life prevented him from casting his vote.

"I didn't know about the election," he said. "I'm kind of busy raising my kids."

But he also said candidates don't talk about the issues that are most important to him. Ayen said he has seen his rent double over the years and that he would be more compelled to vote if candidates addressed qualify of life solutions.

"College costs keep going up," he said.  "It's going to be hard for me to send my kids to college.  They should talk about that."

Follow Abby Sewell and Angel Jennings on Twitter at @sewella and @AngelJennings