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L.A. Election Cheat Sheet: Understanding Charter Amendments 1 and 2

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los angeles-municipal-election-date-charter amendment.jpg | Photo: Alex Thompson/Flickr/Creative Commons

Los Angeles' voter turnout -- or lack thereof -- has become a defining characteristic of city politics. Apart from what that might say about L.A.'s electorate or its politicians, elections can be a big-money production with little notice: $19 million dollars was spent on the most recent mayoral election, and fewer than 25 percent of L.A.'s 1.8 million eligible voters cast ballots.

Could changing municipal election dates to match state and federal elections, when voter turnout tends to be higher, help Angelenos get out the vote?

That's the idea behind two measures that will appear on the March 3, 2015, ballot. Charter Amendments 1 and 2 would change primary and general election dates from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years, beginning in 2020. If adopted, primary municipal elections would be held in June, and general elections would be held in November of even-numbered years, when those statewide and federal elections are held,

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Amendment 1 would make this change to city elections; Amendment 2 would make the change to school board elections. Both need to be approved in order for either to change election dates.

To compensate for the changed timing, both measures would require that candidates elected in 2015 and 2017 serve terms lasting five-and-a-half-years, rather than the customary four years.

Supporters and opponents offer virtually identical arguments for and against each measure, and the principal people in support and against each measure are also nearly identical.

Under the proposed measures, city elections would be run by the county. Though the subject of cost is disputed by supporters and opponents, official voter materials state that the cost of each measure is "unknown."

Supporters state that the measures would "potentially save millions of dollars." Opponents disagree, writing that that claim "has no demonstrable basis in fact," countering by saying that the measures will not reduce or eliminate local elections, they would only outsource them to the county "at an unknown cost."

Proponents of both measures write in official voter materials that "When we hold elections with very low voter turnout, we are wasting money and placing power directly into the hands of special interests -- not the voters." They argue that turnouts for municipal elections are low because they follow on the heels of "higher profile offices" like U.S. president and senators, and the governor.

Opponents, on the other hand, dislike that the measures would extend term lengths for "incumbent councilmembers who voted to place it on the ballot." They also argue that consolidating elections would require local contests to stand out amongst an already busy ballot. "Competing in California's frantic general election environment, local contests would necessarily become exceedingly more expensive in the costlier context of a Presidential or gubernatorial election year," the opponents wrote. "The result: candidates would be even more dependent on special interests to give them money."

Key Points:

Charter Amendments 1 and 2 would change municipal and LAUSD board seat elections to even-numbered years to coincide with state and federal elections.

To compensate for the changed timing, officials elected in 2015 and 2017 would serve terms of five-and-a-half years, rather than the standard four years.

If passed, primary elections would be held in June, and general elections would be held in November, of even-numbered years, and their operation would be outsourced to Los Angeles County.

What Your Vote Means:

A YES vote means that municipal and school board elections will be changed from odd-numbered to even-numbered years beginning in 2020, and would coincide with state and federal elections.

A YES vote means that officials elected in 2015 and 2017 would serve terms of five-and-a-half years, not the standard four years.

A NO vote means that municipal and school board elections will continue to be held on odd-numbered years, and the city of Los Angeles will continue to oversee their operation.

Principal Supporters of Charter Amendments 1 and 2:

Fernando Guerra, City of Los Angeles Municipal Elections Reform Committee
Antonia Hernandez, California Community Foundation
Stuart Waldman, Valley Industry & Commerce Association
Rusty Hicks, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor
Patricia Berman, Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council
Kathay Feng, California Common Cause
Daniel Schnur, formerly with the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission
Gary Toebben, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, West Angeles Community Development Corporation
George Thomas, Van Nuys Neighborhood Council

Principal Opponents of Charter Amendments 1 and 2:

Bernard C. Parks, Councilmember, District 8
Hans Johnson, East Area Progressive Democrats
J. Michael Carey, retired Los Angeles City Clerk
Nancy Pearlman, Los Angeles Community College District

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