Ever since I turned 18, I've voted in every election that's been held. Whether it's a presidential election, a city council race, or even a special election, I've always made sure to cast my vote. I was a political science in major in college and I care deeply about issues that face our community as well as our political process.
Typically I vote absentee because I never know what my Election Day schedule will bring. But the past few weeks I've been so busy running my site Picktainment.com (OK, that's my only plug of the day) that I didn't get around to filling out my ballot in advance.
I showed up at my polling station in Council District 2 at 7:45 AM this morning and was greeted by five ridiculously excited pollworkers.
"You're number three!" exclaimed a nice elderly woman, noting that in the 45 minutes that the polls had been open, I was just the third voter. However, disappointment quickly set in as they realized that because I was sent an absentee ballot, I would need to return to the station with it or else I'd be stuck filling out a provisional ballot.
Worried that I'd be late for a morning meeting, I didn't have time to quickly run home and grab my absentee ballot. So I promised that I'd return in the afternoon.
I made my way back to the polling station at 3 PM and the same woman told me I was now "number 50." So in eight hours, just 50 people in my area had voted.
"Am I the only one under the age of 30?" I asked.
"Probably," the woman replied.
The whole time I couldn't help but wonder why Los Angeles insists on holding a citywide election just five months after a state election. And in two years, we'll have a major mayoral race just five months after what is likely to be another exhaustive and draining presidential election.
If turnout is a priority for our city, then we should align our local races so that they can be held at the same time as our state and national races. People's political attention spans only go so far, and they're more likely to put in the research on local candidates and referendums when they're already planning to head to the polls anyways.
Besides, it would probably save the city a little money if we combined these elections.
Now, I recognize that would mess with the terms of existing local elected officials. But is it really the end of the world if we ask the current mayor and City Council members to serve three years and seven months instead of four full years, so that we can recalibrate the election cycle?
We could also propose having a special two-year term for the mayoral job so that race could take place at the same time as the gubernatorial race. I also realize that we'll need to have a date for potential run-offs, but I still believe we'll all benefit by having fewer election days on our calendar.
Building off the turnout issue, I was also disappointed that seemingly no other young people in my area cast their ballot today (at least before 3 PM). The 2008 Election was supposed to usher in a new era of political engagement for America's youth and change campaigns forever. That may be true on a national level. But when it comes to local elections, apathy is still high... especially in Los Angeles.
Part of this could be the fault of my own generation. Most people my age have made little or no effort to learn about our local governing structure and they're completely oblivious to the power that a Los Angeles City Councilman has. With the exception of my friends who work in politics or those who are lawyers, I'm not aware of anyone in my age range who voted today (and I have over 2400 Facebook friends). And it's not as though I'm hanging out with shlubs either. I went to Harvard-Westlake for high school, Columbia for college, and I received my MBA at USC. Most of my friends are well-educated working professionals and one would hope they'd care about these important local races.
Considering the power that the City Council has in running Los Angeles, and the importance of the local measures during this time of budget strife, the disinterest from local young people is extremely disconcerting.
But the politicians also bear plenty of blame for failing to bring out the youth vote. Not a single candidate in this year's election organized a campaign that was remotely appealing to young people. Perhaps it's because they didn't want to spend money on a group of voters that traditionally has a poor turnout rate. Or perhaps it's because they didn't really know how to reach young people in the first place.
Either way, all of the local candidates threw their resources at same small sliver of voters who show up for these small elections: special interest groups, retired people, and angry neighbors. As a result, our local policy will continue to aim to appease these segments of the population that are hardly representative of the entire region.
It's time for young people in LA to get themselves educated on local issues so that they can actually hold some influence on the way our city is run. But in the meantime, the city could help us out with some better scheduling.