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Amid Low Turnout, Voters And Non-Voters Question Their Impact On LA

A woman sits on a green bench near yellow playground equipment at a South L.A. Park.
"I think the resources are there. The information is there. It's up to us," Marybel Lorenzo said.
(Mariana Dale
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At the end of primary election day in L.A. County, 17% of registered voters had returned their mail-in ballots, according to Political Data Inc., which has been tracking turnout.

“This is not a historic low," said Loyola Marymount University political science professor Fernando Guerra during election coverage on 89.3 KPCC on Tuesday night. But, "It's not great.”

It’ll be some time before we have a complete picture of everyone who voted in the election, but in the past, primary elections during the midterms have drawn fewer voters. Longstanding disparities in age, race, and income persist.

“Ultimately, the numbers don't lie,” said Mindy Romero, director of USC’s Center for Inclusive Democracy. “We can say we have a totally open, accessible voting system, but we can see that a lot of people sit it out and a lot of people experience barriers to participating.”

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On Election Day, we talked to plenty of enthusiastic voters, but we also heard from people consumed by work and raising their families and those who questioned the difference one ballot could really make.

“That's a failure in democracy when we don't have at least sufficient enough turnout, that we can feel like the people that are getting elected are representative of the full state or in like the L.A. mayor's race, the full city population,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc.

Voter Time Comes At A Premium

Primary voters shape the November ballot. In state races, the top two vote-getters advance to the fall election. In L.A. County, candidates who get more than 50% of the vote can win their races outright.

A man in a black shirt with LATTC in yellow stands in front of a white building.
Andrew Toney said the homelessness in his downtown L.A. neighborhood is one of the issues at the front of his mind on Election Day.
(Mariana Dale/ LAist)

The early returns didn't capture last-minute voters like Andrew Toney.

The lifelong Angeleno was helping set up for commencement at Los Angeles Trade Technical College late Tuesday afternoon and planned to deposit his ballot into a voter dropbox just outside campus on Grand Avenue.

Extensive research kept him from voting earlier. This year’s primary race had almost two dozen contests, plus nine superior court races.

“The candidate I feel is the most sincere, who has the most practical plan, that's the candidate I will definitely give my support to,” Toney said.

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Close to half of L.A. County identifies as Hispanic or Latino and as of Tuesday afternoon, just 10% of voters in those groups had returned their ballots, according to Political Data Inc.

We can say we have a totally open, accessible voting system, but we can see that a lot of people sit it out and a lot of people experience barriers to participating.
— Mindy Romero, director, USC Center for Inclusive Democracy

“Our community has so much on their mind, they're really overwhelmed,” said Henry Perez, associate director of the grassroots organizing group InnerCity Struggle. He pointed to inflation, rising rents, homelessness, and the lingering impacts of the pandemic in East and South L.A.

Marybel Lorenzo is a single mom of three. She wakes up at 5:45 a.m. every morning to drive her daughters an hour to school in Los Alamitos, where she hopes the curriculum and additional resources boost their educational experience. She manages a branch of a non-profit that helps low-income women get microloans for their businesses and is trying to figure out how to go back to school to earn a master’s in social work.

Lorenzo didn’t vote in the primary.

“It's a shame. I know,” she said. “I think the vote counts, but I don't do it.”

On Tuesday evening, she walked Coco the Yorkie-poo and watched her girls race around the playground at Gilbert Lindsay Park in South L.A. as the sun set on Tuesday.

A woman with brown hair in a bun and a black vest sits at the park.
"I think the resources are there. The information is there. It's up to us," Marybel Lorenzo said.
(Mariana Dale/ LAist)

These 45 minutes or so are one of the only times she has to herself — and today she’s sharing them with a few lingering work tasks and a reporter.

“Sometimes my kids tell me ‘Mommy, you're not listening. What did I say?’ I'm like, 'I'm sorry. I'm thinking about work',” Lorenzo said.

Voters And Non-Voters Question Their Impact

USC’s Mindy Romero has another theory for why people are not voting.

“It's because they struggle for, again, information and also feeling like that election is actually consequential and important,” Romero said.

That tracks with what I heard standing near Gilbert Lindsay Park’s basketball court.

“To be honest, man, nowadays, I think everything is rigged,” said Jose Monroi. ”I don't believe in the elections no more. That's why I don't vote.”

He last remembers voting nearly a decade ago. Monroi said he wishes elected officials would pay more attention to education. He worries that the nearby schools won’t prepare his 5-year-old daughter for the future he hopes for— one where she gets a PhD, is financially stable, and can “get to enjoy life, whatever she really wants to do.”

For us to vote for someone, it's hard, because we have voted so many times and they have brought us down so many times.
— Mayra Rodriguez

And it’s not just non-voters who question the impact of casting a ballot.

“I know it's important to vote because I did vote, but I always wondered if our votes actually count,” Mayra Rodriguez said as she walked away from the park after her son’s soccer game. She held a can of Coca-Cola and he munched on a hotdog.

Mayra Rodriguez, with kids Daniel and Valerie, said she worries about the gun violence and homelessness in her South L.A. neighborhood.
(Mariana Dale/ LAist)

Rodriguez looks around the South L.A. neighborhood where she was raised and sees violence and homelessness escalating. It’s not where the single mom wants her four kids to grow up.

“For us to vote for someone, it's hard,” Rodriguez said, “because we have voted so many times and they have brought us down so many times.”