Commentary

11/06/2013  by Alexandra Bjerg

Another California off-year election has dismal turnout

By now you’ve probably heard that gubernatorial hopeful Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) wants to “make California the sexiest place to do business.”

While we couldn’t verify whether Justin Timberlake endorsed this co-opting of arguably his most famous lyric, we’d like to think he’d also advocate bringing sexy back to voting in the Golden State (just don’t tell Russell Brand). Given California’s abysmal voter participation rate, it’s clear the current system isn’t effectively grabbing the electorate’s attention.

Yesterday was Election Day in half of California’s 58 counties. In Los Angeles County alone, 519 candidates vied for office in 21 cities, 58 school districts, nine county water districts, and three other special districts. Didn’t know? Judging by initial turnout numbers, you’re not alone. Millions of Californians were called upon to perform their most important civic duty, yet very few actually did.

Of the nearly 1.75 million LA County voters eligible in yesterday’s elections, a paltry 9.9 percent, including yours truly, bothered casting a ballot according to preliminary tallies. Despite showing up less than two hours before the polls closed, I was only the 35th voter in my precinct to show up.

Having cast four ballots in the last 12 months, I don’t blame folks for not turning out. The constant election cycle many Californians are forced to suffer through can be exhausting. Having said that, low turnout shouldn’t be accepted as the norm. Elections shouldn’t feel like game a limbo; I don’t want to know how low California voters can go.

While a lot can be done to boost voter turnout, many elected officials and civic organizations are touting the benefits of a little electoral rescheduling. A recent Greenlining Institute study  shows how the election calendar has a significant impact on voter participation and representation.

Finding that voter turnout in odd-year elections is generally underwhelming and unrepresentative of the electorate. Greenlining suggests that municipalities consider aligning their elections to coincide with state and federal elections in June and November of even-numbered years.

Critics argue a shift to even years causes local races to be overshadowed by higher profile state and federal races on a more crowded ballot. However, in a comparison of participation rates for local issues, the study’s author found that despite down-ballot drop-off, turnout for local contests at the bottom of an even-year ballot is higher than turnout for any race in an odd-year.

Our democracy derives its legitimacy from an engaged and informed electorate. An electoral system in which a majority of voters consistently opt to stay home clearly needs fixing. Whether through election consolidation or by making this civic duty sexy, boosting the state’s dismal voter turnout rate is absolutely vital.

Categories: Democracy, Elections, Californians

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