The Pat Brown Institute at Cal State Los Angeles just released a detailed report of their findings about Los Angeles city elections. It's a good read.
Last year's mayoral election showed a deep decline in voter turnout. But this report points out that it's part of a trend in long term decline in mayoral elections, compared to steady turnout in Presidential elections. These elections are so important to the daily lives of people in Los Angeles. Why are voters not showing up?
One of the reasons is because there's a change in the electorate overall. As the population of Los Angeles becomes more diverse, the potential voter pool is becoming more diverse. But homeowners, seniors, and white people are still far more represented in the ranks of voters, because they are more likely to register to vote and turn out to vote than renters, younger people, and people of color. There's a big gap between who can vote, and who does actually vote. This leads to a situation where politicians answer to a different pool of people than the broader population that they have been elected to represent.
"Long term demographic change means that the city's electorate will become younger, more Latino, more Asian American, and more Democratic. Of those under the age of 18 in 2008, more than 90 percent were born in the United States, and will be eligible to vote." What do we do to engage these communities and bring them into the voting process?
Some changes suggested in the report are changing election dates, or increasing the size of City Council. We also can focus on registering more voters in communities less likely to already be registered, such as voters of color and young people. However that may not significantly change the electorate when the motivation to vote is not there as well. "A more representative Los Angeles city electorate, however, will require not only structural changes but also making city government more widely engaging to a more diverse community, energetic civic education and increasing local media coverage of city hall and the city's neighborhoods."
I believe elected officials need to speak to the interests of all their constituents, not just those most likely to turn out and vote. By bringing everyone into the conversation, all of our citizens will be more likely to vote in future elections.