The L.A. city council is at the brink of forsaking both its current election schedule and its progressive system of matching funds. Why? To give corporations and special interests a heavier hand in selecting city officials and local school board members.
Progressive Democrats support the current schedule of odd-year city and school-board elections and oppose any effort to shift election dates to even years. Moving city elections to even years threatens to worsen engagement in city elections and undermine both the city’s matching-funds program and its goals. These include loosening the grip of corporations or favor-seekers on city officials, making candidates drawing on a broad base of donors in the communities they seek to represent more competitive, and leveling the playing field in our democracy between ordinary voters and wealthy interests.
The rush to move election dates actually risks driving down voter turnout in city elections. That’s particularly true in primaries and especially among people of color constituencies. Far from galvanizing public attention for and participation in city elections, this bad and backwards move risks drowning out city campaigns in the costly cacophony of even-year campaigns. Higher cost for city campaigns in even years will be paid by special interests, whose corrupting influence over city politics and policy can only increase under this scheme.
Even-year elections would consign nonpartisan L.A. city races to the same ballot and same mad scramble for corporate campaign cash as state and federal candidates. That would endanger the city’s program and investment in matching campaign funds, which makes city elections more accessible to grass-roots candidates motivated by public service and less dominated by deep-pocketed special interests.
To maintain the vision and purpose of the city’s matching-funds program for qualified candidates, the $10 million budget for the city‘s matching funds program would have to undergo a massive expansion if city elections were to be lumped in with state elections. This would mark not an incremental, but an exponential cost increase to the city. It would exceed, likely by a large margin, any projected cost savings from holding coincidental even-year municipal and state elections within the city.
Increased turnout, the supposed goal of moving the city’s nonpartisan elections to the partisan even-year schedule, rings false. Turnout in the city in the 2014 primary, in comparison with the city’s 2013 elections, actually fell by 20%; Turnout for the runoff election fell by 30%.
A careful look at data for the most recent odd-year and even-year primary election turnout levels sheds light on participation by city voters in people of color communities. From the March 2013 and May 2013 city elections, Los Angeles saw reductions in voter turnout by Asian American, African American, and Latino voters in significant margins to the June 2014 state primary election.
For African American voters, the drops were 16 and 24 percent. For Asian American voters, the drops were 14 and 23 percent. For Latino voters, drops in turnout to the even-year primary election in 2014 were particularly striking: 36 percent and 47 percent decreases. Any move to even-year primaries heightens these risks.
EAPD voices additional concern that the move to even years would dismantle the functions of our city clerk. And it would relinquish oversight over city elections to the county and state.
Proponents of even-year city elections have shown no plan to remove the influence of corporate and special-interest money from even-year elections for city or school board offices. That is not responsible and unacceptable. City council should not surrender a hard-won election schedule and its safeguards for fairness that provide ordinary Angelenos a stronger say in our democracy. Not every bad idea deserves to be rushed before city voters, where the very interests with built-in advantages in money gain a heavier hand. Not everything is wrong with city elections in odd years. Even years are even worse. We should stop the giveaway to special interests and the shift in elections now.
EAPD is a Democratic club uniting more than 200 members throughout Eastside Los Angeles and adjoining communities.
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