Alarmed by the dismal voter turnout in this month’s Los Angeles city election, California lawmakers are considering a massive expansion of vote-by-mail balloting and legalizing pop-up polling stations at shopping malls to help increase the convenience and appeal of voting. Opening polling stations weeks early and allowing teenagers to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election, strategies already being used in Colorado and Oregon respectively, also are being debated. Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) said he felt compelled to take action after California saw a record low turnout in the November 2014 state election. His commitment to change the system took on new urgency after only about 10% of eligible voters in Los Angeles participated in the March 3 municipal election. “My heart sinks. It’s just horrible. It’s embarrassing,” Hertzberg said. “It just puts a lot less meaning on the democratic process. We’ve got to do something to change the game.” Hertzberg filed legislation to provide vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters during elections, no longer requiring them to request one. It’s among the nearly 20 bills that have been introduced to encourage greater turnout.
State lawmakers began scrambling for answers after the November state election, in which a record low 42.2% of registered voters cast ballots. Among all those eligible to register, 30.9% voted. And then Los Angeles held its election.
“Here we were complaining about the 31% [statewide] turnout in November, and then just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, it drops down” to 10.3% for Los Angeles, said Sen. Benjamin Allen (D-Santa Monica). “How sad.”
Experts believe some help will come for Los Angeles elections from a newly approved measure to align city votes with state and federal elections. But the state has been slow to respond to low voter turnout, said Kim Alexander, president of the non-profit California Voter Foundation, which advocates for the use of technology to promote the democratic process.