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Informed Opinions on Today's Topics : Looking for Answers to Voter Apathy

June 17, 1994|MAKI BECKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Last Tuesday's election drew a record low in voter participation throughout the state. Less than 31% of Los Angeles County's registered voters showed up at the polls, according to the county registrar-recorder's office. Among the reasons cited for the poor turnout are public distaste for dirty campaigning, limited media coverage, uninspiring candidates and a general inability of electoral organizations to rile up the voters.

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What can be done to increase voter participation?

Kevin Acebo, campaign manager for Supervisor-elect Zev Yaroslavsky:

"Turnout is always a question of interest and my belief is that it's a matter of finding every way possible to spark interest in the electoral process. We should make it as easy as possible for people to vote. There have been a number of ways suggested, beginning with implementing a strong voter registration effort that was finally passed in Congress. . . . We should explore (increasing) the number of days that people can go to the polls (for one election) and it's worth discussing every effort that's legal--that would be absent of fraud--to encourage people to go to the polls. On-site voter registration also may be one way of increasing voter registration."

Beatriz Valdez, county clerk:

"It's just getting worse all the time. I don't know if there's anything this office can do. We send out announcements. It's just appalling. . . . It's definitely a problem when you get 70% of the people basically saying the other 30% can decide for me. . . . We send a sample ballot to every single voter. We spend $13 million at every major election. We have to prepare for everyone going to the polls (which means) each voter's participation is already being paid for. . . . We have over 3.5 million registered voters. . . . If only 30% vote, then we have made an effort and paid for 70% that don't take advantage of that. Thirteen million dollars are spent on an election over and above what all the campaigns spend to go and try to get people to vote. There are so many issues; there are so many measures. I would think that everyone could pick one contest to make their voice heard at least on one of them."

Anna Rundle, vice president of Glendale/Burbank League of Women Voters: "One thing (the League of Women Voters has) supported was the motor voter deal (where people are automatically registered when they apply for driver's licenses). But that has not gotten implemented in California yet. We'd like to get that implemented.

"Another thing is that we feel pretty strongly that the materials that people get should be simple, complete and easy to read. Mostly it's a matter of people being informed and knowing how it is of concern that more people don't vote. . . . There's another program that's called Kids Voting: The idea is that parents and families work with young children and eventually go with them to the voting precincts."

Jon Spiro, history teacher at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills:

"The answer is nothing can be done to increase it. You would think that improved education would lead to a higher voting rate. But even educated people now feel that the country is so large and the government is so far removed from their everyday life that their one single vote will make absolutely no difference whatsoever.

"And I feel that way, too, but I vote in every election because of some lingering guilty feeling that it's one's duty to represent oneself in a democracy, but I'm never under any illusion that my vote will ever do anything. I always say to myself, 'If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain about the way things are.' "

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