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Less isn’t more when it comes to voting

Anyone who’s looking for another reason to withdraw troops from Iraq should look no further than the results of Tuesday’s school board election in L.A. If that’s what representative democracy looks like, there’s no point in sacrificing more lives so the citizens of Iraq can enjoy the same freedoms we do.

We had an election and almost nobody showed up, and I wish I could tell you I was exaggerating. Take the District 3 seat in the San Fernando Valley, home to 315,181 registered voters. Only 29,167 of them -- that’s 9.2% -- bothered casting a ballot for one of three school board candidates.

In the Harbor area’s District 7, three candidates received a total of 8,772 votes. That means 3.9% of the 224,712 registered voters there managed to pull themselves away from “The Price Is Right” and cast their ballots. It is possible once again that on election day, more Angelenos went to a carwash than to a polling place.

I hate to make excuses for the deadbeats, but I can understand why they stayed home.

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As Los Angeles Unified School District consultant Darry Sragow pointed out Thursday, we’re constantly changing our polling places and election dates. We schedule low-interest school board races with really sexy stuff, like local charter amendment issues, instead of coordinating with big-ticket state elections. And in the land of high-tech innovation, we can’t manage to offer the option of electronic voting from home.

“We could do it, but we don’t,” Sragow said. “There’s no impetus for it.”

Another reason for the low turnout, Sragow said, was that many of the people who vote regularly in Los Angeles don’t have children in public school. And even if they did, it was hard to see what the election had to do with kids.

It was mostly about a power battle between Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the teachers’ union over control of the district.

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Take the San Fernando Valley, for instance. Villaraigosa bankrolled Tamar Galatzan against union-backed incumbent Jon Lauritzen, funneling her $1.15 million from his school improvement committee. That piggybank, by the way, was stuffed by people unconnected to education -- including developers with business before the city.

Galatzan didn’t raise much more than that, so her 12,857 votes came to about $90 a pop for the mayor. The teachers union armed Lauritzen with a mere $475,000, but that was enough to help him get 11,536 votes. That was definitely more bang for the buck. His votes cost the union just $41 apiece.

I don’t know how many textbooks all that would buy, but the whole thing serves as a nice little civics lesson for the kiddies.

But not even all that money could buy clear victory. So the poor residents of both the 3rd and 7th districts will now be subjected to runoff elections May 15. And that means hundreds of thousands more spent to prove which candidate is whose toady.

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Yippee! That’s sure to get voters up off their couches.

Look, I don’t care which politician or organization is pulling the strings. I want to know what the candidates have to say on their own about the education of our children, period.

If that doesn’t work, the runoff candidates should consider doing it Mexican style, promising bicycles, encyclopedias and other freebies in return for votes.

A double-digit turnout is a longshot, I know. But nothing’s too good for our kids. I’ve heard the mayor say so himself.

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steve.lopez@latimes.com


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