After abysmal voter participation in California’s last election and in Los Angeles County in particular, some state officials want to follow in the footsteps of Oregon and look into creating an automatic voter registration system. Proponents say creating a system that automatically signs up eligible voters instead of requiring them to take the initiative would remove a major barrier to participation and free up resources that could be spent on getting more people interested in voting. That proposal came up Friday at a joint legislative hearing in Los Angeles that focused on increasing voter turnout in Los Angeles County. The county is the largest in the nation and has 4.8 million registered voters. But its turnout was the lowest in the state in last November’s general election. Statewide turnout of registered voters was 42%, but in Los Angeles County only 31% of registered voters cast ballots. Turnout was particularly low among Latino registered voters, at only 23%, and Asian and black voters, at 26%, according to a report by the bipartisan firm Political Data Inc. The number of people eligible to vote — citizens 18 and older — who cast ballots was even lower: 31% statewide and 25% in Los Angeles County.
“Los Angeles is a critical piece of the state’s economic, cultural, social and socioeconomic life,” Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), head of the Senate Elections Committee, said after the hearing. “If Los Angeles is not properly represented though our democratic process, the whole state loses.”
Other officials echoed the concerns. “If you look at the numbers, not just in 2014 but in the past several cycles, then one could say that our democracy is weak,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said the voting population is “not at all representative of the diversity that is California.”
Academics and community organizers floated a number of potential remedies: increase the amount of money the state gives to counties for voter outreach, expand early voting and create dispersed “community voting centers” to replace assigned polling places, do more targeted outreach to ethnic communities and infrequent voters who are often overlooked by political campaigns — even require people to vote, like Australia. They also debated the pros and cons of a proposed charter amendment on the city of Los Angeles’ March 3 ballot that would move city and Los Angeles Unified school board elections from odd- to even-numbered years, consolidating the elections with races for state and federal office.