Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by John Schreiber.

Opponents of two Los Angeles ballot measures calling for city and school district elections to be held in the same years as gubernatorial and presidential races were joined by several City Council candidates at City Hall Monday to make a final push against the measures.

While billed as a way to improve voter turnout, Charter Amendment 1 and Charter Amendment 2 would only benefit deep-pocketed special interests like billboard companies and developers, who are major supporters of the measures, according to Hans Johnson of the group Save Our City Elections.

The measures would “tip the playing field dramatically in favor of” special interests that “want a stronger hand in picking winners and losers in our nonpartisan races,” Johnson said, with voter engagement actually decreasing because candidates and local issues for city elections would be buried at the bottom of lengthy ballots and mostly ignored.

Charter Amendment 1 and Charter Amendment 2 on Tuesday’s ballot call for holding city and school board elections in even-numbered years, instead of odd-numbered years, putting races for the Los Angeles Unified School District board, City Council, mayor, city attorney and controller on the same ballot as races for the governor and president.

Backers of the election year switch say voter turnout has proven to be stubbornly low in the odd-year city elections — with less than 21 percent of registered voters going to the polls in the 2013 primaries.

Proponents compared the low voter turnout to the presidential election in November 2012, which drew 69.2 percent of registered voters in Los Angeles County, and the gubernatorial race in November 2010, which saw a turnout of 52.5 percent countywide.

Kathay Feng, executive director of the electoral reform group Common Cause — one of the groups supporting the measures — told the City Council in November that “voter fatigue and confusion over the day of the election” has become an issue for voters.

“Our city elections are held on March and May of the odd year, and it’s not intuitive to most voters,” she said.

Feng also said the Public Policy Institute of California studied about 300 cities and found the single change “that was able to cause voter turnout to go from” around 20 percent to 50 or 60 percent “was synchronizing (city elections) with the the statewide elections.”

But former Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is running for a seat in the Boyle Heights to downtown Los Angeles 14th Council District, called the two measures a “special interest political grab.”

Molina, who joined Save Our City Elections outside City Hall today, said the measures will drive up the “slate mailer industry,” in which only “those with the most money” would be included on voter “cheat sheets” sent out to overwhelmed voters.

The charter amendments are “not in (voters’) best interest,” Molina said. “It is only in the interest of special interest, which most of us do not belong to because it is big money — money that we are not a part of.”

Other candidates also spoke out against the amendments, including Cindy Montanez, who is running in the Sixth District seat representing San Fernando Valley neighborhoods, and Grace Yoo, who is challenging Council President Herb Wesson in the 10th District, which encompasses Koreatown, parts of South Los Angeles and Wilshire area neighborhoods.

Johnson said members of the City Council and other proponents of the measure offer little information on the actual cost of the election year switch.

He said there could actually be a “dramatic increase in cost” from outsourcing the city elections to the county, which runs the state and federal elections.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, who was an early and vocal opponent of the two measures, also noted that “we’re asking the county to put forth our elections on a system that does not exist, for a cost that we know nothing about.”

Parks said the city should “continue down the road of finding ways to get more people out to vote,” such as encouraging “better candidates” to run in elections, getting more information to voters, giving Angelenos longer periods to vote and getting more people to vote by mail.

Johnson also pointed to voter turnout figures that show “three of our last four mayoral elections in Los Angeles had higher turnout … than in the following even year primary.”

He added that voter turnout in last year’s primary state and federal elections — held in an even-numbered year — “was lower” and “less diverse ” — with fewer black, Latino and Asian voters — than in the 2013 primary election.

“We’re doing some good things in Los Angeles,” he said. “We’re not doing them as robustly as we should, but not all is broken in the city of Los Angeles.”

City News Service

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