Councilwoman Jan Perry expressed her support for implementing early voting in future city elections Tuesday at City Hall. Perry introduced a motion before the Los Angeles City Council that proposes expanding voting centers, same-day voter registration, vote by mail and other alternative voting methods. All of these changes would try to increase the number of people that vote in city elections.
"Voter turnout is a fundamental quality of fair elections, and supports our efforts to get our constituents involved in local government and play an active role in shaping their future," Perry said to the Council.
Perry is a candidate to replace Antonio Villaraigosa as Mayor of Los Angeles. None of her proposed changes would affect this year's elections; the soonest such new methods could take effect is 2015. Representatives from California Participation Project and the Thai Community Development Center followed Perry with their own words of support for the motion.
"In the short term, we want to encourage the city clerk's office and the City of Los Angeles to think out of the box in terms of what we can do to encourage civic participation, electoral participation," said Lawrence Joe, Project Director of California Participation Project. "We want to begin that conversation now."
Past city elections have had as few of seven percent of eligible voters casting a ballot, according to Kathay Feng, the Executive Director of California Common Cause.
"That's a really small sliver to representing all of the city," said Feng, whose organization advocates for voting rights. "[It's] a very scary situation when you think that about half of that can basically determine who represents the entire city of Los Angeles... and determine how our city is going to move forward on certain ballot measures."
Joe adds that city elections are often the best way for a citizen to make an impact of how he or she is governed. "Because of the low turnout in municipal elections, each person's voice is amplified even more," he said.
The last time the city tried early voting was a pilot program in 2007. A report from the city clerk says the program cost about $260,000 and was "underutilized" by voters. But the report also early voting is growing in popularity and that it takes time for people to know they can vote early.
Feng says council members are generally in favor of increasing voter turnout, but they have political issues to consider. Campaign consultants "are used to running elections in a traditional way," in which messages are tailored for a small set of likely voters.
"Regardless of what election they’re running for, as politicians, they have to care about what those rules are going to be and how they will directly impact on their own careers," Feng said.
For now, the only way voters can vote early in this year's election is to apply for a mail-in absentee ballot by Feb. 26 for the March primary.
[Correction: People can also cast their ballots early this year at the Elections Division office, located at 555 Ramirez Street, Space 375, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Voters can go there to vote in-person from now until Monday, March 4. Thanks to Lawrence Joe for the correction.]
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