The mayoral primary election on March 5 experienced one of the lowest voter turnouts in Los Angeles’ electoral history, with 21 percent of registered Angelenos showing up to the polls on election day as of March 9, according to the New York Times.
Despite the more than $19 million spent by the mayoral candidates seeking to succeed Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the primary election, barely more than one-fifth of the 1.8 million registered LA voters voted in the election. This figure, according to records kept by the Los Angeles City Clerk, suggests the lowest turnout in a primary with no incumbent in more than 30 years.
An interactive online map by the Los Angeles Times indicates that only 170 people voted between the two polling places on the University Park Campus.
Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics Director Dan Schnur attributed the low voter turnout to November’s presidential and congressional races.
“This is one of the inevitable downsides of having an odd-year election,” Schnur said.
Asher Levy, a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said the recent national election could have led to a sense of “voter fatigue” in some citizens.
“We just had a presidential election that really zapped everyone’s interest,” Levy noted.
Such speculation has led many to call for an alignment of city races with national and statewide elections.
“Cities that match local campaigns with larger elections invariably see much higher turnout,” Schnur said. “Of course, the opposition to coinciding local with national races is that mayoral candidates will receive less attention.”
USC College Democrats President Aaron Taxy said tying the importance of the mayor’s race to races for governor or president could encourage increased participation in municipal politics, which often play a more immediate and visible role in the lives of citizens.
“Local elections, in many ways, impact quality of life way more than a presidential or congressional race,” Taxy said. “From traffic to potholes to law enforcement, local politics have direct implications for everyday life and USC students should feel a stake in this election.”
Taxy, who registered to vote in Los Angeles instead of his hometown of Oakland, said he feels obliged to participate in the politics that govern issues he faces daily as a resident of the city. Both not everyone is so motivated, and USC College Republicans President Madeline Lansky said the challenge for the remaining mayoral contenders in the next 10 weeks will be to encourage Angelenos to show up and vote — an effort relies on making sure people are informed.
“I did a lot of calling the week before the election, and half the people I talked to didn’t even know there was a primary on Tuesday,” Lansky said. “The other half didn’t know who the candidates were.”
Schnur noted that both Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel would have to do their part, including differentiating themselves as candidates and rallying voter involvement, to make sure voters show up on election day.
“There’s a sense that Garcetti and Greuel may have played things safe in order to avoid any problems that could have cost them the top two positions,” Schnur said. “In the runoff, your goal isn’t simply to not lose, it’s to win. They’re going to do all they can to make sure that their bases show up on election day and vote.”
The two candidates are keenly aware of this, and Greuel said the lack of voter turnout reflects Angeleno’s disillusionment with city politics.
“This shows that people are frustrated,” Greuel told the New York Times. “Part of running [for office] is to try to change that.”
Garcetti also emphasized the importance of promoting a sense of civic engagement.
“We don’t have as deep of a sense of civic culture as we do in other cities, which is part of the reason I wanted to run,” Garcetti told the New York Times.