Huizar pro­poses con­duct­ing Los An­ge­les elec­tions by mail

Los Angeles Times - - California - David Zah­niser david.zah­niser @latimes.com

Look­ing to boost voter turnout while cut­ting costs, Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil­man Jose Huizar is craft­ing a bal­lot mea­sure that would al­low fu­ture city elec­tions to be con­ducted al­most en­tirely by mail.

Huizar plans next week to un­veil three pro­pos­als for the March 2011 bal­lot that would re­vamp the city’s elec­toral process, in­clud­ing one that would al­low ev­ery voter to re­ceive an ab­sen­tee bal­lot.

Un­der such a sys­tem, the city would prob­a­bly re­duce the num­ber of polling places while re­ly­ing on larger, pro­fes­sion­ally staffed “neigh­bor­hood vote cen­ters” where bal­lots could be de­liv­ered if they had not been mailed in time.

Huizar said the ex­panded mail-in bal­lot ar­range­ment ini­tially would ap­ply only to spe­cial elec­tions, those held be­cause an of­fice has un­ex­pect­edly be­come va­cant. But he would like the sys­tem to even­tu­ally ap­ply to ev­ery city elec­tion.

“We have folks with dif­fi­cult work sched­ules, folks with dif­fi­cult fam­ily obli­ga­tions, and many times they can’t get to the vot­ing booth,” he said.

“This gives them an eas­ier op­tion.”

The con­cept is one of sev­eral be­ing pro­posed for the March elec­tion. Sev­eral coun­cil mem­bers also in­tend to ask vot­ers to in­stall a ratepayer ad­vo­cate at the Depart­ment of Wa­ter and Power.

Mean­while, Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Eric Garcetti called Fri­day for a mea­sure that would bar bid­ders on city con­tracts from giv­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions to can­di­dates.

Huizar’s pro­pos­als fo­cus on voter par­tic­i­pa­tion, which in Los An­ge­les is con­sis­tently lower in mu­nic­i­pal races than it is in state and na­tional con­tests, ac­cord­ing to city elec­tion of­fi­cials. Turnout in the March 2009 city elec­tion was 17.9%, with 35% of those mail­ing their bal­lots. Two years ear­lier, turnout was 11.1%, with 45% vot­ing by mail.

Huizar said he also plans to sub­mit a pro­posal to in­crease the amount of tax­payer fund­ing for city can­di­dates.

And he wants a mea­sure that would change city elec­tions to a sys­tem of “in­stant runoff vot­ing,” which would al­low vot­ers to rank their top three can­di­dates in or­der of pref­er­ence.

That con­cept would dra­mat­i­cally change to the way re­sults are tal­lied. In races in which no can­di­date re­ceives a ma­jor­ity of the vote, sec­ond-place and pos­si­bly even third-place rank­ings would be tab­u­lated in or­der to iden­tify the win­ner, said Chris Gar­cia, project co­or­di­na­tor for the city clerk’s of­fice.

The sys­tem, which is used by San Fran­cisco and will soon be tried by vot­ers in Oak­land and Berkeley, would elim­i­nate the need for a runoff elec­tion. That could save from $3 mil­lion to $5 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a Huizar aide.

Huizar’s pro­pos­als have drawn sup­port from Cal­i­for­nia Com­mon Cause, a non­profit group look­ing for ways to in­crease voter par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Kathay Feng, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said the large num­ber of polling places across the city should be re­placed by a more mod­est num­ber of vot­ing cen­ters that are larger and run by paid elec­tion work­ers.

“We have a lot of polling places that are lo­cated in places that are in­ac­ces­si­ble, that are in­tim­i­dat­ing,” Feng said.

“They [are] in Elks lodges and in back­yards — places that are not invit­ing to the voter.”

Huizar is up for re­elec­tion in March, in a district stretch­ing from Boyle Heights to Ea­gle Rock.

One of his op­po­nents, busi­ness owner Rudy Ber­mudez, voiced doubts about the con­cept of in­stant runoff vot­ing.

Un­der that sys­tem, a can­di­date who is ranked first by the great­est num­ber of peo­ple would not nec­es­sar­ily win the elec­tion, Ber­mudez said.

“It will just con­fuse the voter,” he added.

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