L.A. Expecting a Dismal Voter Turnout Today

Times Staff Writer

City officials were expecting one of the lowest voter turnouts for a Los Angeles mayoral election in decades today.

City Clerk Elias Martinez--even as candidates were gearing up Monday for get-out-the-vote efforts--predicted a turnout of just 25% to 30% of Los Angeles’ 1.9 million registered voters--down from 34.7% in 1985, 37.2% in 1981 and 42.4% in 1977.

The turnout today could be even lower than forecast: The last time the city clerk’s office predicted an election turnout of 25% to 30%--during the 1987 general election--only 15% of city voters cast ballots.


Some private campaign consultants predicted a 20% turnout, and a few believed it could be as low as 13%

Martinez, who acknowledged that his forecast was based on historical trends and gut instincts, said this election “lacks something emotional.”

Following a campaign against underfinanced, less organized competitors, Mayor Tom Bradley seemed assured of winning an unprecedented fifth term, and City Atty. James K. Hahn, along with two council members, drew no ballot opposition.

Races that feature hot propositions--such as fluoridation of water in 1975--and contested mayoral contests--including the 1973 runoff between Bradley and then-Mayor Sam Yorty--pull the highest turnout figures, Martinez said.

Political analysts agreed there was little happening this year to excite voters.

In addition to mayor, voters today were to elect a city attorney, controller and representatives for City Council, school and college boards. They also were to decide six propositions.

Except for two school board races and one City Council contest, most incumbents were expected to win easy reelection. And none of the propositions attracted any organized opposition.

“There’s not sufficient competition,” said Prof. Larry Berg, director of the Institute for Politics at USC. “That’s the absolute most important thing.”

Berg and other analysts blamed the lack of competition on redistricting, which keeps incumbents safe in homogenized precincts.

But candidates and proponents of ballot measures were not leaving today’s outcome to those general demographics, traditional loyalties or fate.

Hundreds of volunteers for scores of candidates were being readied to work telephones and walk precincts today to try to get their voters to the polls.

Bradley was basing much of his campaign strategy on these so-called field operations to deliver him an unprecedented fifth term.

Chris Hammond, Bradley’s deputy campaign manager, said 100 campaign workers were to be on the phones and 200 to 300 volunteers were to be walking key precincts, leaving door hangers and other literature. Even with these efforts, Hammond said he doubted that the vote would reach the 34.7% turnout of the last mayoral primary election.

The Bradley effort was designed to get those voters most likely to vote for him to go to the polls. “In a low turnout, you go back to your base of support,” Hammond said.

Challenger Nate Holden’s forces were a fraction of those being massed by Bradley, but their intent was the same: target the councilman’s most likely supporters.

Holden predicted that the city clerk’s projections would turn out to be too low.

“People are coming out of the woodwork to vote against Tom Bradley,” Holden said in predicting that 28% to 35% of the electorate would go to the polls.

Former County Supervisor Baxter Ward, another Bradley challenger, said he hoped his strong name recognition--particularly in the San Fernando Valley--would carry him to a runoff election in June.

Political analyst Berg said Bradley’s strategy of not using television advertising, which tends to raise overall awareness and likelihood of voting, could backfire.

Polls show that most Angelenos like the mayor. But those voters with the strongest feelings about him might be those who oppose him, Berg said. And they could well be more likely than Bradley supporters to go to the polls, he added.

A low turnout could have a big effect on the outcome of the school board races and the ballot propositions.

Participation in Los Angeles school and community college board elections is typically lower than the mayoral contest, according to political consultants. Four years ago, for example, 34.7% of the city’s voters cast ballots in the mayoral race, but only 25% voted in some school board races.

Such low interest increases the ballot box clout of relatively small but motivated groups of school election voters, such as teachers. This year, United Teachers-Los Angeles, which represents 32,000 district teachers, counselors and nurses, was working to secure a more sympathetic majority on the seven-member school board at a time when the union is locked in a bitter contract fight.

If turnout was extremely low, the several thousand UTLA teachers living in two key districts could account for nearly 10% of the vote.

All six propositions, including the four spending measures, need a two-thirds majority for approval. A low turnout, while traditionally dominated by conservative, anti-spending voters, could actually benefit the propositions in this case, analysts said.

That is because turnout in the city’s black precincts could be particularly high, predicted one Bradley campaign adviser, who asked not to be identified. The adviser said that with two blacks, Holden and Bradley, at the top of the ballot, “there is obviously a great deal of awareness in the black community” and a greater motivation to vote. “You would be hard-pressed to call the black community conservative voters,” he said.

That could make for good news for backers of most of the ballot propositions, especially Proposition 2, which would issue $176 million in bonds to expand Police Department facilities. Voters in Los Angeles’ minority and poor districts have voted overwhelmingly for police bond issues, while more conservative and white districts, such as the San Fernando Valley, have voted against them.

Times staff writer Rich Connell contributed to this article.