There's another election in L.A. in two weeks. Hard to believe, I know.
Certain parts of the city, primarily downtown-adjacent neighborhoods, have already had four elections so far this year: two regularly scheduled local elections and two special elections. Oh, and it gets worse. If none of the 13 people running in the Oct. 3 special election gets more than 50% of the votes — and doing so is unlikely — there will another election on Dec. 5.
Six elections in one year! This isn't just voter abuse, it's bad for democracy. It seems blasphemous to say, but having too many elections is almost as bad as not having enough.
Choosing elected officials is important work, and it's tough to get people interested in local races. That's why Angelenos, or at least the few who actually vote, decided a few years ago to move city elections to coincide with the presidential and gubernatorial races in November. This year was the last time the city will have an off-year election. Hooray.
The idea is that people only have so much attention they will spend on elections, which it turns out is considerably less than the time they devote to trimming their toenails or watching cute animal videos on their phones. So, to increase the odds that they will devote the time needed to vote, and thus engage in the democratic process, it's better to have fewer and more meaningful elections.
Even then it's no guarantee. In California, fewer than 60% of Californians who were eligible voted in the last presidential election. If the prospect of a grope-y billionaire reality-TV star running the country wasn't enough to get people running to the polls on election day, imagine how difficult it is to get voters interested in a race without celebrities or scandal. (It does make you wonder, though. Just what would motivate that other 40%? Money? Threat of bodily injury? A Ryan Gosling-Scarlett Johansson ticket?)
This means that on Oct. 3 a relatively few people, myself included, will be choosing representation for everybody else in Assembly District 51. If history is any guide, it would be an accomplishment to see 15% turnout. That means that a few people whose motivations may run to the arcane, self-serving or truly awful (we don't know!) will be selecting a legislator to representing the rest of us. True, one freshman Assembly member doesn't have a whole lot of power pushing legislation in Sacramento, but his or her floor vote can make a difference. More than one bill has passed without a vote to spare.
It didn't have to come to this. A chain reaction of elections was set into motion when U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) decided to retire and California Attorney General Kamala Harris won the race to replace her. Gov. Jerry Brown tapped Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) to fill Harris' seat, triggering a special election to replace him in congress. Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Eagle Rock) was the eventual victor in that race, leaving another seat open and another special election on the horizon. And here we are.
You can't really blame Boxer, Harris, Becerra or Gomez for making decisions about their lives and careers. You can't blame the governor for basing his appointments on who he thinks would do the best job, rather than the special elections it may produce.
Me, I blame state law because it requires a special election to fill a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives within a very specific timetable when it might make more sense to wait until the next regularly scheduled election or allow the governor to appoint a replacement. That's costly and, like I said, bad for democracy. Whoever ends up winning this special election for Assembly District 51 ought to help change that law. I like democracy as well as the next person, but not this much of it.