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Hoping to Boost Dismal Turnouts, L.A. Votes to Change Election Dates

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Los Angeles and LAUSD elections will be moving from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years thanks to a pair of charter amendments approved by voters.

Backers of the charter amendments on Tuesday's ballot said the move will help boost voter turnout by including city and Los Angeles Unified School District issues on ballots that traditionally draw more people to the polls, such as gubernatorial, congressional, and presidential races.

Dan Schnur, a member of the committee supporting the measures, called it "a great win for the people of Los Angeles," and said voters "won back their elections from the special interests who have controlled local politics for far too long."

"There's much more work to be done, but making people aware that an election is taking place is the first step toward getting them to participate," said Schnur, a former chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Charter Amendment 1 calls for switching dates for the mayoral, City Council, city attorney, and controller elections. Charter Amendment 2 calls for moving the dates for Los Angeles Unified School District board elections.

Backers of the measures said voter turnout has proven to be stubbornly low in the odd-year city elections -- with less than 21 percent of registered voters going to the polls in the 2013 primaries.

By combining local races with with higher-profile elections, more voters would come out to vote for city and school board officials, according to supporters, who include Council President Herb Wesson, electoral reform group California Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters.

But critics of the measures, including a group called Save Our Elections, said lumping city elections onto the end of a lengthy ballot statewide or national ballot would actually lower engagement with local issues.

In a crowded election, city and school board candidates and local ballot measures would need to spend more money to gain voters' attention, giving deep-pocketed interests -- such as billboard companies, developers, and others -- an advantage over smaller groups with more modest budgets, opponents said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks opposed the measures, as did former Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and Koreatown activist Grace Yoo -- both of whom ran for City Council seats but lost.

The measures will have a direct effect on the victors in the City Council races.

The candidates elected to City Council in this election will receive 5 1/2-year terms, instead of the usual four years.

The one-time lengthening of the terms was proposed so the next election for the local seats will take place in the even-numbered year of 2020, instead of 2019.

The mayor, city attorney and controller, and eight other City Council seats will also become 5 1/2-year terms for those elected in 2017, so the next election after that can occur in the year 2022. After that terms will go back to four years.

Ironically, the measures aimed at boosting voter turnout were decided in an election that had noticeably limited voter interest. According to unofficial results posted by the City Clerk's Office, Tuesday's election had a turnout of less than 9 percent of the city's registered voters.

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