f two charter amendments headed to Los Angeles voters March 3 get approved, it will make it next to impossible for candidates who aren’t party insiders, or the darlings of labor or business interests, to run for and win city office in L.A. Charter Amendment 1 and Charter Amendment 2 would move city and school board elections to June and November in even years from March and May in odd years to coincide with state and federal elections. The professed goal is to increase voter turnout, but I believe that’s a smokescreen. The proposals miss that objective while tilting the playing field in favor of special interests and in ways detrimental to good representation for residents. First, there’s turnout. Higher turnout alone doesn’t necessarily mean a higher percentage of voters who are engaged and knowledgeable on local races and issues. Besides, voter turnout in three of our last four odd-year city elections for mayor actually exceeded the even-year turnout, which has been especially weak in primary elections. Yet primaries are where most of our local elections get decided (over that period, 78% of City Council and school-board elections were determined in primaries). So the promise of voter turnout rings false.
Selling the amendments to voters on the basis of encouraging voter participation also masks the fact that the terms of some officials who wrote the measures would be extended 18 months to accommodate the change in the elections schedule. Did self-interest drive that decision?
Now our odd-year local elections are distinct for voters; they focus on local issues and debates. And L.A. elections are nonpartisan. Combining city contests with state and federal elections will undoubtedly mean infusing our nonpartisan tradition with party politics. The proposals miss that objective while tilting the playing field in favor of special interests and in ways detrimental to good representation for residents. –
Worse, our local elections would be relegated to the bottom of a very long ballot, and to the bottom rung of public attention. News coverage of city governance is already scant. Community forums and neighborhood council debates involving candidates for council are rare. Imagine what will happen when people running for City Council must compete with simultaneous presidential, Senate, House, statewide offices, state legislative, and state ballot measure campaigns.