How To Vote In Neighborhood Council Elections, Which Are Happening Right Now
They say all politics is local, and in the city of L.A., it doesn’t get more local than your neighborhood council.
It’s election season for L.A.’s 99 neighborhood councils, your neighborhood’s official megaphone to City Hall. They can’t make laws, but they can tell elected officials — namely, your city councilmember — what your community cares about and can advocate more loudly than an individual resident might be able to.
Everything a neighborhood council does has to be approved by its board in a majority vote. So if you want your neighborhood council to actually represent the issues that are important to you, it matters who those board members are. And this is where you, the voter, come in.
If you live, work, own property or have some kind of meaningful connection to a neighborhood in the city of L.A., you’re likely eligible to vote in one of these elections. You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen and you don’t have to be over 18, but you should know a couple of basics first.
Why these elections matter
The city of Los Angeles has 4 million residents that are represented by just 15 members of the City Council. That can make it pretty difficult for a resident to feel connected with their elected representatives or that their neighborhood issues are actually getting addressed.
Enter neighborhood councils. They’re a hyperlocal arm of city government, made up of your neighbors, that gets to weigh in on City Council legislation and spend a small amount of city funding on programs for their neighborhoods or to support local schools and nonprofits. They have a board, made up of members who get elected or appointed to two- or four-year terms, and topical committees.
Neighborhood councils often get more regular access to city councilmembers or city departments, and they usually know the right people to call when problems need to be fixed. (Here’s a much more comprehensive guide to what neighborhood councils can do.)
Neighborhood councils aren’t always the most functional groups — there’s no shortage of stories of petty infighting or personal drama between members. But public participation is absolutely essential to these councils being able to do their jobs. If a neighborhood council isn’t getting anything done because its members are fighting too much, or if the same members keep shutting down disagreement and entrenching their own power, electing new members is one way to turn things in a new direction. Not a lot of people vote in these elections, so your vote really has power here.
One more thing to know: neighborhood councils are increasingly becoming a springboard to higher office in L.A. (Former neighborhood council members include City Councilmembers Nithya Raman and Hugo Soto Martinez, along with City Controller Kenneth Mejia.) This is an early way to support or slow down a future candidate’s momentum.
Who can vote in a neighborhood council election
These aren’t like your usual city elections — you can vote whether or not you’re a U.S. citizen, and in most cases you only have to be 16 or older. And generally, you can vote in a neighborhood council election if you live, work, own property or are involved with a community organization in that neighborhood.
Beyond that, there are some rules about voting that are specific to each neighborhood council. For instance, a neighborhood council may have specific seats that only people who live in the neighborhood can vote for, or a renter’s representative seat that only renters can vote for. And some neighborhood councils have a youth representative seat, which people as young as 14 can vote for.
When you request a ballot, you’ll have to supply an address or name of an organization you’re involved with to demonstrate your connection to the neighborhood. Some neighborhood councils may require additional verification, like a utility bill or pay stub, to show your connection to the area.
How to vote in a neighborhood council election
- Figure out which neighborhood council election you want to vote in. You can input your address here to find out which council represents you. It’s possible to vote in multiple neighborhood council elections, though in some cases you’ll have to verify with documentation that you have a connection to that neighborhood.
- Look up election dates and deadlines. Neighborhood councils hold their elections on 12 different timelines. Here’s a calendar for all the deadlines for requesting a vote-by-mail ballot and casting your vote.
- Request a ballot. Neighborhood council elections are a different election system than municipal, state, and federal elections, so you won’t get a vote-by-mail ballot automatically. You can request a vote-by-mail ballot here — the deadline to request one is 19 days before your neighborhood council’s actual election day. (If your deadline passed, you can still vote in person on election day.)
- Research the candidates. Many neighborhood councils will hold candidate forums where you can ask questions or hear them talk about why they’re interested in running. If you can’t make the forums live, you may be able to find recordings or notes on the neighborhood council’s website. Otherwise, you can check out candidates’ statements that they submit to the city clerk’s office.
- Vote in person (if you aren’t voting by mail). If you missed the vote-by-mail ballot request deadline, here’s a list of all the in-person voting centers for each neighborhood council where you can vote on election day. You can also return your vote-by-mail ballot at one of these locations, or drop your ballot in the mail.
Missed your chance to vote? Here’s how you can still be involved
Perhaps your election has already passed, or you’ve already voted. Your participation doesn’t have to end there! Here are a few things you can do to stay involved:
- Attend meetings and give public comment. Neighborhood councils have monthly meetings open to the public. Meetings also have a public comment period, in which members of the public are allowed to give a 2-minute comment on anything they like. If you feel strongly about an issue and want it to get some attention, here’s your chance. You can find meeting calendars on your neighborhood council’s website, or sign up for their newsletter to get updates.
- Join a neighborhood council committee. Neighborhood councils often have committees that handle specific issues like transportation or public safety. They’re responsible for setting priorities on issues they want the larger board to vote on. Committees are often considered more influential and less time consuming than being on the larger board. In most cases, you can reach out to the committee chair and ask what it takes to join.
- Join a neighborhood council board. If you want to get even more involved, you can join a neighborhood council board. The board has the voting power to approve (or not approve) actions the neighborhood council wants to take. Even if there isn’t an election coming up, there are lots of cases in which seats go vacant, in which case you can bypass a general election and join with approval from the board. Stay in touch with your neighborhood council via meetings or their newsletter — if any vacancies crop up, you can reach out to be considered to fill it.
Here’s more information on what you might want to know before you join a neighborhood council.
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