Local

Future changes to local elections could boost turnout

File: Citizens vote on Election Day at Fire Station #71 in Alhambra, Los Angeles County, on November 6, 2012 in California, as Americans flock to the polls nationwide to decide between President Barack Obama, his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and a wide range of other issues. Alhambra is one of 6 cities in California's 49th Assembly District, the state's first legislative district where Asian-Americans make up the majority of the population.
File: Citizens vote on Election Day at Fire Station #71 in Alhambra, Los Angeles County, on November 6, 2012 in California, as Americans flock to the polls nationwide to decide between President Barack Obama, his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and a wide range of other issues. Alhambra is one of 6 cities in California's 49th Assembly District, the state's first legislative district where Asian-Americans make up the majority of the population.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Elections in Los Angeles kicked off this weekend with early voting at eight locations across the county.

Only 516 votes were cast Saturday and 485 more on Sunday.

For Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk Dean Logan, who runs county elections, that number is not discouraging. It’s part of a long-term process to revamp how the county runs elections.

“One of the reasons we did an early voting program on the weekend is recognizing that March is not necessarily a time where voters throughout the LA County associate with voting,” Logan told KPCC. “We have been working for the past few years to begin modernizing and replacing our voting system."

Officials want to move away from limits on voting on a single day or place. Some changes include expanding early voting opportunities up to 10 days ahead of the elections and allowing people to vote at work or at the supermarket.

“We have learned in the process that the more options available to voters, the more likely they are to participate, especially if those options work well with how voters interact with other activities,” Logan said.

For decades, the county and city have held elections on local matters on odd years “to reduce the corruptive influence of political parties and to keep voters focused on local affairs,” according to the LA Times.

In practice, however, voter turnout has been low.  A survey that the Times cited found that 144 had an average participation rate in mayoral elections below 26 percent, compared to about 55 percent in presidential elections.

In 2013, when Los Angeles’ mayoral contest was wide open, barely 23 percent of voters cast a ballot.

Another option is to move local elections to state and federal ballots. That would double participation.

Two years ago, Los Angeles residents voted to do just that.  Starting in 2020, city issues will be on the ballot with a choice for the next president.

To improve participation statewide, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in 2015 that would require many small cities to do the same.

Until then local elections will continue to be held on odd years.

“These local elections are where your vote really has immediate impact and where you’re affecting things close to home, in your neighborhood and your community,” Logan said. “So it’s important that people have their voice heard in these elections.”