Politics

No shame. Keeping up with elections is tough. Share your #VotingConfession

FILE: Chef Al Gordon is the founder of Community restaurant in Los Feliz. Like many voters, he's finding it hard to keep up with elections and politics.
FILE: Chef Al Gordon is the founder of Community restaurant in Los Feliz. Like many voters, he's finding it hard to keep up with elections and politics.
Maya Sugarman

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Here around KPCC, we like to think civic engagement in our democracy is pretty important. That's why we created tools like the Voter Game Plan and the Human Voter Guide to help keep you informed.

But we get it: keeping up with every single election can be tough. You've got to make time to research long lists of candidates, sift through countless ballot measures or double-check polling places and whether you're registered correctly. And sometimes those things slip through the cracks.

Take for instance, Al Gordon. He's a chef at a restaurant in Los Feliz called Community. A few years ago, we teamed up with him to see if we could make him care about the local City Council race in his district for a series we called #MakeAlCare.

We picked Al because he's not your typical voter in our local, low turnout elections. Wealthier, whiter, and older homeowners tend to be likely voters and have an outsized influence because they vote more reliably. People of color and renters in the city of Los Angeles, not so much.

After digging into Al's concerns, bringing him to a candidates forum and sorting through all the issues, we convinced him to vote in his very first local election. And the City Council candidate he voted for, David Ryu, went on to win his election.

But since then, Al's civic fervor has waned. When we returned to Al this week to get his thoughts on the upcoming June 5 primary election, his response was, "What election?"

Al Gordon at his restaurant, Community, checks his registration status online and updates his address. Like many renters, Al had moved since the last time he voted and he wasn't receiving election materials.
Al Gordon at his restaurant, Community, checks his registration status online and updates his address. Like many renters, Al had moved since the last time he voted and he wasn't receiving election materials.
Meghan McCarty Carino

While he has stayed pretty engaged, following Councilman Ryu on Facebook and attending a meeting of his local Business Improvement District, Al doesn't have a lot of time since he's running a business, or a lot of faith in the systems of government to make a difference. So he hasn't been following politics and elections.

"I'm not trying to be negative," he said. "I'm just saying sometimes it's not worth putting your energy in something that's not gonna pan out for anything."

Political science professor Mara Cohen, senior fellow with Loyola Marymount University's Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles, said Al's flagging enthusiasm for voting may be attributable to the fact that he's not seeing his active engagement pay off.

"Candidates continue to be more responsive to those voters who are part of organized groups, like homeowner associations, who are more reliable, more consistent in turning out to the polls," she said. "So it's not that he's ignorant or that he lacks the interest. It's just that he hasn't seen a big payoff."

For instance, one of Al's biggest concerns has been affordability, both for businesses and residents. As the operator of a small restaurant, he relies on a vibrant, young, walkable community with spare money to patronize his business. He says he's only seen the needle move in the wrong direction on that front.

"That disposable income is not there," he said. He's being squeezed from both sides, with business falling and costs rising due to the increase in the minimum wage.

But there's another reason Al is not engaged with the upcoming election: he didn't hear about it through traditional channels.

Al gets most of his news through Facebook and online videos. He doesn't have a TV or cable subscription, so he doesn't see ads. And since he last voted, he's moved, as many renters frequently do, so he wasn't getting election materials from the L.A. County registrar.

"This is one of the systemic challenges and why renters tend to turn out in lower numbers" said Cohen.

How to reach voters like Al, and other underrepresented constituencies, is an ongoing issue for candidates -- and American democracy -- as traditional means of advertising like TV and snail mail to a permanent address become less useful. 

Al did update his registration information online and even sent in the form to vote by mail in the future. As to whether he'll actually cast that ballot, the jury's still out.

"Registering is one thing. Voting for someone that I know that's going to make a difference, it's a whole different thing," he said, pointing to the long list of candidates in the sample ballot. "What do you do with all these names? I can almost close my eyes and just point."

We know Al's not alone. Let us hear your #VotingConfession. No judgment. No shame.

Tell us about the times you just couldn't get around to voting. What stood in your way? What might have helped get you to the polling booth or mailbox?

You can submit your confessional in the comments box below, tweet us @meghamama with the hashtag #VotingConfession or email your thoughts to memccarty@scpr.org.

Need help getting ready for the June 5th primary election? Make a plan. Visit our Voter Game Plan page for candidate and ballot measure information and see what's on your ballot.