Los Angeles County has the worst voter turnout in the state. As part of an effort to tackle voter apathy, we chose one person who doesn’t usually vote and we're trying to make him care about the March 3 primary elections in Los Angeles.
He’s part of a demographic of registered voters who tend to skip city elections – nonwhite renters under age 45. True to form, he's lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade and has never voted in a local election here.
“I just really don’t have the time to follow all the candidates, and pro this, anti that," he said. "I just don’t have the luxury of that time."
Al lives in L.A. City Council District 4, home to probably the most confusing race in Los Angeles' primary elections on March 3.
The City Council seat has been held by Tom LaBonge for 14 years, but he's reached term limits and can't run again. So it's up for grabs. There are 14 candidates vying for the seat, none of whom have major name recognition.
Al's district faces big questions about affordable housing, preserving the character of historic neighborhoods and building jobs and businesses in the area.
It's a daunting task, especially for a guy who doesn't have a lot of burning issues to take to City Hall.
"Everything's pretty nice," he said, strolling his neighborhood.
A political scientist steps in
Mara Cohen-Marks, a political scientist at Loyola Marymount’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles — and also a voter in Council District 4 — said the huge number of candidates is overwhelming, even for her. Keeping up with candidate positions in a field this big is a daunting task.
“Voting in local elections costs a lot of time,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons turnout is so low.”
To try to make things a little easier on Al, Cohen-Marks agreed to sit down with him and give him some pointers for thinking about the election and sorting through the candidates.
Through the course of the conversation, it became clear to Al that he does care about issues that directly relate to the election: He wants his neighborhood to remain affordable, so that the young creative types who patronize his restaurant during the day will be able to stay. He also wants their entertainment jobs to remain in L.A.
Affordable housing is a big problem: The city has been named the least affordable in the country. The city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund shrank drastically after state funds dried up and federal dollars were cut. The city council and mayor haven't agreed on a specific plan on how to ease the crunch.
Al also clued in to a very specific issue being decided at City Hall: the competing bids of Nederlander and Live Nation to operate the Greek Theater in Griffith Park. The City Council voted earlier this month to reject a proposal to give Live Nation the contract, but a final decision by the Parks Department has yet to come.
“Live Nation plans to have more concerts, so that’s more people coming to the neighborhood, hanging out – so that’s a win-win for me,” he said.
Here's another reason Al should care, Cohen-Marks said: Because the pool of candidates is so large — and the number of expected voters is expected to be small — Al could have an outsized influence.
“He would sway the whole election right here," she said. "It would all come down to Al.”
Or to you, for that matter.
To get educated on your local candidates:
- Read through the candidate statements on KPCC's 2015 Election Guide and interviews to get a feel for which issues and neighborhoods are their priorities.
- Don't discount the power of word-of-mouth. “I’m going to ask friends who I trust," Cohen-Marks said. "We really need each other to help get information."
- Check out the endorsements of publications or organizations that you care about.
How much do candidates want your vote? When Al opened his restaurant for lunch Tuesday, he said candidates were waiting to talk to him, thanks to this series of stories.
If you don't usually vote and decide to hit the polls next week, you — and Al (fingers crossed!) — will be expressing preferences that aren’t usually represented in low-turnout local elections.
“If those who actually turned out on election day looked like the rest of the city," Cohen Marks said, "maybe we wouldn’t care that turnout is only 1 out of 5 registered voters.”
Next time: I take Al to a forum to hear from the candidates themselves, get his questions answered and hopefully #MakeAlCare once and for all.