Lack of hot-button issues fueled dismal voter turnout in L.A. election

Not many voters in Los Angeles’ municipal elections Tuesday - as expected -- showed up to the polls. As of Wednesday morning, turnout was around 8.6%, though that percentage will increase as absentee and provisional ballots are counted.


The low voter turnout in Tuesday’s election can be attributed at least in part to a drama-free ballot without the hot-button issues that bring people to the polls.

As of Wednesday morning, turnout was 8.6%, according to numbers from the City Clerk’s office. That number will rise, possibly by several percentage points, as more absentee and provisional ballots are counted. So far, 157,577 ballots have been counted, and 43,814 remain uncounted.

In some parts of Los Angeles, the only items on voters’ ballots were candidates for the community college Board of Trustees and two charter amendments. The consolidation of elections wasn’t the kind of hot-button issue likely to draw in voters, said Jessica Levinson, an associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.


“People may think about legalizing marijuana or other kinds of social issues on a regular basis but whether or not we should link up city and state elections is something very few voters devote brain space too,” she said.

Los Angeles is particularly challenging, according to Levinson. With about 250,000 constituents apiece, the council districts are too large for most voters to have face-to-face interactions with the candidates. Reaching those voters through slate mailers and radio or television ads can be prohibitively expensive.

“You have to raise money but then raising money tends to turn off the voters because they say well, ‘You’re spending time with moneyed interests, you’re not spending time with us.’ It’s a terrible Catch-22,” Levinson said.

In the race for South L.A.’s 8th District, winner Marqueece Harris-Dawson spent $408,171 to get 5,819 votes. The leading candidate in the 4th District race, Carolyn Ramsay, spent $407,051 for 2,911 votes.

Two ballot measures designed to boost turnout in Los Angeles city and school board votes won.

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, were each leading with 77% in favor.

Opponents argued the change would actually increase the sway of special interests and force local candidates to raise more money. The measures would also give some elected officials extra time in office.


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.

And only 1 in 7 registered voters bothered to turn out for City Council candidates in 2011.

Because of the low turnout, candidates don’t need that many votes to make it to a runoff or even win their election outright.

Based on numbers thus far, here’s how the winners did in Tuesday’s election:

Paul Krekorian: 6,704 votes

Nury Martinez: 5,344


Marqueece Harris-Dawson: 5,891

Herb Wesson: 7,022

Mitch Englander: 11,224

Jose Huizar: 11,081