My quest started with a simple question: Can we find one person who doesn’t vote in municipal elections and make him or her care enough to cast a vote?
Voter turnout has been dropping all over California, but Los Angeles has the unfortunate distinction of being at the very bottom.
During last year's general elections, the county had the worst showing in the state – with only 31 percent of registered voters casting a ballot. In 2013, when the city of Los Angeles held municipal elections, a measly 23 percent showed up to elect a new mayor.
The City of Los Angeles' upcoming primary elections on March 3 don’t even include the mayor, so turnout is expected to be even lower. Up for grabs: city council seats, school board and and charter amendments to move the city's municipal elections to coincide with state and federal elections to try to get more people to participate.
Political scientist Mara Cohen-Marks from Loyola Marymount University's Center for the Study of Los Angeles said a small pool of voters combined with a large number of candidates means some races could be decided by a few thousand or hundred votes.
So I set out to find one person who is representative of the average nonvoter – someone who is already registered, who follows presidential or statewide elections but doesn’t pay attention to local politics. Also, we wanted the person to target the cross section of registered voters who show up the least: non-white renters under age 45.
If we could convince this person — if we could make this "average Joe" care — could we convince others?
Let's find out. Come with me on my journey.
Reporter Meghan McCarty canvasses the streets of Los Angeles with a sandwich board and a microphone.
I started by knocking on doors in my neighborhood, stopping strangers on street corners and in parking lots. I asked everyone I met the same question: Do they pay attention to city elections? Why not?
Not surprisingly, I met a lot of people who couldn’t care less about the upcoming elections.
In fact, they cared so little they wouldn't even let me follow them around with a microphone to try to change their minds.
George Ducker expressed a sentiment that was pretty common among the young people I interviewed: Until he owns a home or has kids, he just doesn't see himself taking the time to get engaged with local politics.
Another guy assured me he was the "village idiot" and wouldn't be voting any time soon, while still another citizen told me he'd more likely vote for the mayor, whom he misidentified as Eric Garcia (rather than Garcetti).
Time was running out. So I sent out a distress call — well, email — to my friends: Anyone know a non-white renter under 45 who doesn’t vote in local elections but might be engaged enough to have their minds changed and have it all recorded for the radio?
That’s when I found Al Gordon. He’s the neighbor of my colleague Jed Kim.
Al lives in Los Feliz, where he is also the chef and partner of a restaurant called Community. Al has lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade but has never voted in a local election.
I’m trying to change that. I am trying to #MakeAlCare. (Yep. Hashtag. Check us out on Twitter.)
From now until the March 3 election, I'll be trying to find ways to spark his interest in the race. I'll interview him about his concerns, get answers to his questions and hopefully #MakeAlCare enough to actually vote.
And as long as you're still reading, give me a hand, would you? Tweet a video, audio, or plain ol' thumb-typed message to Al and tell him why he should care about municipal elections. Tag us @kpcc and include the hashtag (come on, you know it by now: #MakeAlCare).
I can't do it without you.