Saturday, December 27, 2014

SATURDAY POLITICS: 10 Weeks Until Los Angeles City Elections

Council President Herb Wesson has a plan to control
Los Angeles city politics until 2020
in just ten weeks, on March 3, 2015 Los Angeles voters will go to the polls and decide who will represent them in seven even-numbered city council districts. In two of those districts (#8 and #4) there is no incumbent. However, even more important than City Council, School Board and Community College Board of Trustees races that will be decided is the two Charter Amendments which could change Los Angeles City politics forever.

Voters will be asked whether they want to change the dates of municipal elections to align them with county, state and federal elections, moving them from the current odd years to even years, and moving the primary from March to June and the general election from May to November.

On the face of it, this sounds like a good idea because turnout in municipal elections, which are often at seemingly bizarre times of the year, has been declining precipitously and has recently reached embarrassingly low levels. However, in order to effect the change, the result will be that Councilmembers elected in 2015 and 2017 will get 5½ year terms instead of the typical four year terms. Thus, if voters approve Charter Amendment One and Two current City Council President (if he gets re-elected in March) would be able to serve as City Council president until atleast June 2020!
I'm sure it's a complete coincidence that it is precisely that date when the primary election for the next Board of Supervisors seat currently occupied by Mark Ridley-Thomas (and which is considered the "Black" seat on the 5-member board) would be scheduled. Wesson is currently 63 years old and would be a formidable candidate to join the powerful body. Interestingly, the only member of the 15 Los Angeles City Council to vote against putting the Charter Amendments before voters was Bernard Parks (who unsuccessfully ran against Ridley-Thomas for that Supervisorial seat 2008 and was formerly the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department).

One bonus of the Charter Member change would be that whoever is elected in 2017 as Mayor would also get to serve a 5½ year term, which would be a great boon for incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti. Another troubling problem with the proposed charter change to even-year elections is that adding our local elections to the end of a very long federal, state and county ballot may actually reduce the number of people who vote on these races due to "ballot drop-off"
Factoring in the potential drop-off in votes on city races stuck at the end of a long even-year ballot, city races might have attracted just 23 percent of eligible voters last month. That’s because in that election in Los Angeles County, nearly 3 in 10 people who voted for a candidate for governor did not vote for the last judicial race on the same ballot. Calculating that drop-off from 31 percent turnout yields about 23 percent turnout, the same as voted in the 2013 general election for city offices. Even the numerical case for the scheme to change elections for our city and school board officials breaks down under scrutiny based on recent evidence. 
The charter amendments to change election dates are phony “reform.” Real improvements to city voting would consider moving the city election to match the months of even-year elections, to expand early voting and mail balloting, and to hold elections on a Saturday and Sunday, when people are more easily able to vote.
There are less than ten weeks to go  before Los Angeles voters will decide the very nature of municipal democracy but there is very little discussion going on about this critical public policy change. I hope that changes soon!

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