Politics, government and public life for Southern California

South Los Angeles city council candidates work to mobilize voters for May runoff election

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There’s been considerable civic angst about the low voter turnout in L.A.’s March 5 primary, which was just 20 percent. In some parts of the city, such as Council District 9 in South L.A., it was even lower. 

Only 15 percent of the district’s registered voters came out for the primary, so both campaigns are mobilizing to get a bigger turnout for the May 21 runoff. Each is taking a different approach. In the case of Ana Cubas, campaign volunteer Evelia Palmero says going door-to-door is an important strategy.

“When you call on the phone sometimes they just hang up on you," Palmero said. "But face to face, you are able to dialogue with the people, exchange ideas and when they have a question, you can always clarify the point.” 

Curren Price’s campaign has a different strategy. The state senator appears before neighborhood groups, but – as is tradition for black candidates throughout the nation – he’s tapping into the network of churches. Every Monday morning at Mount Mariah Church in South LA, there’s a meeting of the local Baptist Ministers Conference, which is led by Pastor Xavier Thompson.

On March 18, Thompson invited Curren to address the ministers: “I see our state senator who [has] walked in the building in the sanctuary. I love him. Amen, he’s a brother beloved and I’ve asked him to come and to greet us on today. Give us an update. Right before he come, right before he come, let’s just thank God for our state senator Curren Price.”

Both the Price and Cubas campaigns have their work cut out. There are roughly 77,000 registered voters in the district, but fewer than 12,000 participated in the March election. And that’s not unusual for South Los Angeles.

According to Ange-Marie Hancock, a political science and gender studies professor at USC, it’s a challenge to get voters interested in off-cycle elections. Voter engagement is a consistent problem, she said:

“That does have to do with the percentage of immigrants in the population who either aren’t eligible to vote, permanent residents who haven’t yet naturalized, as well as the challenge campaigns face to turn out what are called low-propensity voters — people who haven’t voted in these past elections."

Low turnout has historically been a problem in Latino and African-American communities. That was reflected in L.A.’s March election, in which eight city council seats were on the ballot. Looking at the numbers, one fact was clear: the whiter the district, the higher the turnout.

The most effective way to get low propensity voters out to the polls is through something called integrated voter engagement, according to Hancock.

“It’s not just showing up once at the door or once calling on the phone to talk to voters," she said. "It’s actually a sustained kind of set of interactions that campaigns should have with voters. Now the challenge of course for Price and Cubas is there’s not a lot of time to have repeated touches of the same voters."

Turnout will be key in the Ninth District, which has been represented by African-Americans since the 1960s. But demographics have changed. There are now more Latinos than blacks here, and they make up the majority of registered voters.

Ana Cubas and Curren Price have less than six weeks to rally their forces for the May 21 runoff.

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