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Apathy Won In A Landslide Last Night: So What Should We Do?

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What if they held an election and no one showed up? Well, that's kind of what happened yesterday: only 16.11 percent of Angelenos registered to vote in yesterday's primary actually did.

Expectations weren't high to start. It's a truism (with some exceptions) that Angelenos tend to get less excited about local elections than national ones. No, not even Will Ferrell or Salma Hayek could make us care. Even The Economist decided to weigh into our local elections just to note that this year's race has been especially boring: "The campaign dulled early on. Debates were too numerous (there will have been 42 by the time of the primary), and descended into sloganeering. No candidate has set forth any sort of vision for the city. Even their fights have been half-hearted."

And indeed yesterday's election quite literally turned out to be a snooze:

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But still that 16 percent number still stings. Outgoing mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talked to The Los Angeles Daily News yesterday: "I keep hearing about low voter turnout. Everyone should vote. LA deserves better than this."

Now today we're doing a little soul-searching and trying to figure out what's wrong with us.

There's plenty of blame on the campaign for the highest-profile office on the ballot. Mark Lacter of LA Observed wrote:


Hell, let's just say it: This was the dullest, most unimaginative group of candidates I can ever recall following. They focused on platitudes instead of solutions. They burrowed into topics that Angelenos don't understand or care about. Structural deficits? Pension reform? The gross receipts tax? I follow this stuff all the time, and even I was bored by the patter.

But Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times doesn't want to let voters off the hook:
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The city has a budget hole that will keep eating the services people demand. The rec center might close. The paramedics might get to a heart attack victim too late.

People keep saying the candidates for mayor were too boring to generate much interest, or the campaigns were too negative and turned voters off.

Some truth in that, but those are the lazy man's arguments. One of these people -- Eric Garcetti or Wendy Greuel -- is going to make decisions that affect nearly 4 million residents, and millions more who visit Los Angeles, in hundreds of ways for years to come.


Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said the low-turnout numbers were "awful" and "embarrassing." At a council meeting he suggested changing the timing of Los Angeles' elections: “We need to look at maybe consolidating our elections with the state. We have to bring those turnout numbers … higher."Former City Controller Laura Chick wrote an op-ed in the Times last month suggesting just this. She worries that special interests would be opposed to changing a system that favors them: "Elections are easier to win if you only need to turn out a small contingent of voters and can focus on targeting those people with mailers and TV and radio ads."

We've linked to it before but we liked this interview with Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of CSULA's Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs. He explains some of the factors that suppress voter turnout in Los Angeles, including our history, our geography, the way that our city government is structured and, yes, a fear of the masses:

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But maybe the answer is that we were all too busy thinking about other things yesterday:

If you missed it yesterday, you have another chance to vote in the upcoming general election on May 21.