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Opinion

Editorial: The long and the short of the endless election cycle

Eric Garcetti campaigning on Halloween
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti campaigns on Halloween morning at the North Hollywood Metro Red Line Station for the passage of Measure M. The city’s voters will decide early next year whether Garcetti will stay on as mayor for a second term.
(Los Angeles Times)

After such a long and fraught presidential election, we could all use a break. Too bad we don’t get one.

The polls had barely closed last week when the next election cycle kicked into gear in California and Los Angeles. Or rather, election cycles — one excruciatingly long and another surprisingly short.

The 2018 gubernatorial race has been on a slow burn for the better part of the last two years, but it heated up last week when former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that he would run, putting to rest two years of speculation. The campaigns for other statewide constitutional officers (lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, etc.) have also begun, with candidates declaring their intention to run, announcing endorsements and beginning to raise funds.

There are city and school board races in March — less than two months after the inauguration of the new president.
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Voters won’t cast ballots in these races for another two years, so the electorate can afford to ignore those races for the moment. Not so for voters in Los Angeles, who have an important election right around the corner.

What? It hardly seems possible, but there are city and school board races in March — less than two months after the inauguration of the new president. And it’s important that voters continue to stay engaged in this next election. It would be foolish to expect Angelenos to turn out at the rates they did for the presidential election, but certainly this city deserves more than the paltry 10% of registered voters who showed up for the last municipal election. 

Besides, there’s good news: It will be the last time that Los Angeles holds a separate election in March; voters will never again wake up the day after a November election to realize they will have to take another trip to the polls in just a few months. That’s due to a voter-approved change last year moving city and Los Angeles Unified school board elections to even years (in June with a November runoff) to sync up with presidential and gubernatorial elections.

This measure was proposed two and a half years ago by the City Council-created 2020 Commission to improve the desperately low turnout in local elections. (Sadly, even the proposal itself, which would have cut down on the number of elections, wasn’t enough to drive voters to the polls. The 10% turnout was so low that it motivated state lawmakers to pass statewide voting reforms.)

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The Los Angeles Times supported the change of election dates because there’s something unseemly about elected leaders being picked by such a small fraction of the constituency. Local races may not be as sexy as state or national contests, but they have enormous consequences for the day-to-day existence of regular people. If your neighborhood is overrun with criminals or trash, if your streets aren’t paved or your schools are terrible, you will need to rely on your city council or school board representative, not the president, or even your local member of Congress.

The stakes in the upcoming March municipal election are especially high. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Atty. Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin are running for reelection to second terms. If they prevail in March or in the May runoff, they will get a supersized 5-1/2 year term because of the election year switch. That makes it all the more important for voters to participate, so they can choose wisely. Seven of the 15 members of the L.A. City Council are up for reelection and the northeast San Fernando Valley council seat that Felipe Fuentes left to become a Sacramento lobbyist has drawn 31 candidates.

The L.A. Unified Board of Education and the Los Angeles City College District each have three seats open, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors may put a homelessness tax measure on the March ballot.

It’s a lot to ask California voters to remain engaged after a long, bruising campaign that culminated in an election in which most had their presidential hopes dashed. But at least, after March, there’ll be some relief from local races for Angelenos. Unless, of course, the local campaigns start to stretch out as long as the epic state ones. But don’t worry; that won’t happen. Probably.

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