Annual Business Meeting and Voting Trends
Dr. Fernando Guerra was the keynote speaker at the League Annual Meeting on June 2. He presented a talk on underlying causes of low voter turnout in non-presidential elections, and possible ways this problem could be addressed.
- Why is voter turnout so low in California local elections, and what can be done about it?
- Who are the sturdy idealists willing to lead the League next year and how much money will it take?
- What are the issues that the League wants to spend time, energy and resources on?
Dr. Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, and a Director of the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles, delivered a comprehensive answer to the voter turnout question, after showing a series of charts that prove that voter turnout is abysmal.
Guerra blames low turnout on electoral structures from the Progressive Era around the beginning of the 20th century, which were aimed at avoiding the corruption and influence of political machines so rampant on the East Coast. Because of that effort, all local elections are non-partisan, so people who depend on political parties to guide them, feel lost about local candidates.
Other factors for low turnout are that local elections are in “off years”– held in different years than the national elections–and there are staggered terms that create the perception of too frequent elections. Political parties, unions, and non-profits are not motivated to support local candidates’ non-partisan campaigns, and many incumbent candidates can draw their own voting districts to ensure long tenure. Local news coverage is disappearing and is aimed at polarized audiences. In California, because of the success of the Democratic party, there are no “wedge” issues that help differentiate candidates from each other, or that motivate voters to turn out.
Professor Guerra listed potential changes in the election process to remedy many of the dis-incentives to vote: on-line voter registration, election day registration, universal registration with opt-out (when you get your driver’s license), automatic registration when you interact with a government agency, pre-registration of 16 and 17 year-olds, universal vote-by-mail ballots, touch screen technology making it possible for ballots to be generated tailored to the voter’s address and party preference, voting centers, and more early voting. We are likely to see all of these in place statewide by 2018.
Guerra urged the League to get behind efforts to establish citizen commissions for redistricting local voting jurisdictions, and to move all city, county and school board voting elections toward voting by districts rather than “at large”.
The most controversial suggestion to improve turnout is “Votería”, where if you vote, you are eligible to win a big prize in a drawing after the election. Fun? Effective?