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Final Election Tallies Put Voter Turnout At 20%, So It Wasn't L.A.'s Worst Ever!

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The recent ballot was a big one for Los Angeles. The items ran the gamut, and chief among them was a measure that would have stifled housing development in L.A. (it was defeated), and another that would have brought much needed aid to the homeless (it passed!). Also, the mayor was up for re-election, and seven city council seats were up for grabs (it would have been eight, but Councilman Bob Blumenfield ran uncontested).

As the votes came in, however, we came to the troubling realization that voter turnout was...terrible. With about tens of thousands of votes still left to be counted, Dean Logan, the Los Angeles County registrar of voters, told the L.A. Times that it was very possible that L.A. would set the record for the lowest turnout of voters ever in an L.A. mayoral election. “That would be my best back-of-the-napkin estimate,” said Logan.

But now all the votes have been counted. And it turns out that we (barely) escaped the record low. Do we get a trophy here or what?

At 20%, the turnout was just a tad higher than the dismal record low of 17.9% set in 2009, reports the L.A. Times. By the final count, only 407,147 ballots were cast in the city, with a total of 2,030,173 registered voters. County-wide, however, the turnout dipped down to 17%.

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One of the most telling figures is the vote count for Mayor Eric Garcetti. While he won re-election with a whopping 81% of the vote—the biggest share that any L.A. mayor has gotten in over a century—he received less votes than Tom Bradley did in 1973, and Sam Yorty did in 1965 and 1969.

"That number overall is very disappointing," Jen Tolentino, the Los Angeles-based director of policy and civic technology at Rock the Vote, told KPCC while speaking on the turnout rates in general. "We clearly did not really see that." She made the comment when vote-by-mail and provisional ballots were still being counted, and when voter turnout was hovering around the 11% mark.

What are the reasons for the paltry showing? Fernando Guerra, political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, told KPCC that "wedge issues" (like immigrant rights, abortion, and gay marriage) are more likely to draw out a big crowd. So maybe development just isn't a sexy enough topic for us Angelenos.

Guerra adds that voter turnout has been plummeting in big citites that have not scheduled their elections to coincide with statewide and national elections. And in this vein, L.A. is not the only major city that's seen declining turnout. "L.A. is not unique. Every major city in America that does not have its elections as the same time a gubernatorial or presidential has seen a similar decline," Guerra told KPCC's AirTalk. "L.A. is actually in the middle of the pack, so half the cities in America are [doing] worse than we are."

As such, while there are several ideas being thrown around to increase turnout (such as pre-registering teens to give them a head start), election officials surmise that the best bet would be to sync up local elections with state and national ones.

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Though, having said that, it's also worth noting that the U.S., as a whole, has a bad track record of going to the polls. According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. ranks 31 (out of 35) when it comes to voter turnout among developed countries. Which is to say that it's a bad time to go into the "I Voted" sticker business.