LOCAL L.A. Now

Will Los Angeles set a new low for voter turnout in today's election?

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.

In a bid to increase turnout, two city charter amendments will ask voters to approve shifting city and school district elections from odd- to even-numbered years so they coincide with state and national races. Backers believe the change will draw more voters, especially those who are young, black or Latino, and reduce the power of special interests. Opponents argue it would actually increase the sway of special interests and force local candidates to raise more money. The measures would also give some elected officials an extra 1½ years in office.

It's an issue that goes beyond the city of L.A.

Los Angeles County is the largest in the nation and has 4.8 million registered voters. But its turnout was the lowest in the state in last November's general election. Statewide turnout of registered voters was 42%, but in Los Angeles County only 31% of registered voters cast ballots. Turnout was particularly low among Latino voters, at only 23%, and Asian and black voters, at 26%, according to a report by the bipartisan firm Political Data Inc.

The number of people eligible to vote — citizens 18 and older — who cast ballots was even lower: 31% statewide and 25% in Los Angeles County.

At a recent state hearing, academic experts and community organizers suggested a number of potential remedies: increase the amount of money the state gives to counties for voter outreach, expand early voting and create 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 require people to vote, like Australia.

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