L.A. Election Recap: Low Voter Turnout, Incumbents Stay Put, Most Measures Pass

Photo by Jessica Levinson

Yesterday, voters in the City of Los Angeles were given an opportunity to weigh in on everything from funding for libraries to taxation of oil extraction to limits on campaign contributions by city contractors. And what did the voters say?

The City's dire fiscal situation clearly did not motivate Angelenos to head to the polls. The overwhelming majority of voters made a deafening statement, one of total silence. The one thing more than 88% of voters in Los Angeles could agree on is that they would not spend the time either at a voting booth or at their kitchen table with an absentee ballot to give an opinion on many issues facing our city's government. Though, of course, a failure to vote is a declaration in and of itself.

It's a sad statement that merits significant further discussion when the day after election day the clearest statement from the voters is none at all.

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One problem is that too few people even knew there was an election. Ideally, elections would occur more predictably, and would be tied to state or federal elections to increase voter turnout.

Another potential problem might be that not all of these ballot measures had to go to the people. It might behoove the City Council to make a decision, and not ask less than 12% of the voters to ratify (and therefore provide political cover for) some tough decisions. That is, in fact, a council member's job, to represent their constituents, even if only about one in ten of their constituents show up to vote for or against that member.

What did those precious few voters who visited a ballot box or mailbox say?

When it came to the seven city council elections the voters made a powerful statement, one in favor of incumbents. The six incumbents running for re-election appear to be victorious. Paul Krekorian, Tom LaBonge, Tony Cardenas, Herb Wesson, and Jose Hiuzar all garnered more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. Incumbent Bernard Parks also received just over 50% of those voting in District 8 to avoid a runoff election. In the one open seat election, voters overwhelmingly approved of the closest thing we have to an incumbent, the sitting member's chief of staff, Mitch Englander.

If the nearly 12% of Angelenos who voted are representative of the rest of the electorate, it could be time to close the book on the anti-incumbency narrative.

And what about the ten ballot measures?

Approximately sixty percent or more of those voting said "yes" to nine of the ten ballot measures. (For more on the measures, see my prior column, here). In sum, voters approved of a modest reduction in pension benefits for firefighters and police officers, fundraising restrictions on those bidding for city contracts, more oversight for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, more mandated funding for the Library Department, taxation of medical marijuana dispensaries, and the strengthening of requirements for a rainy day fund. The one unsuccessful ballot measure, one that would have imposed a tax on oil extraction, was narrowly defeated.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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