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Informed Opinions on Today's Topics : Are Off-Year Elections Expendable?

November 07, 1995|ED BOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Today voters in Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley, as well as Westlake Village, Calabasas and Agoura Hills, go to polls to pick school board, water district and city council members.

Voter turnout has been dropping dramatically in recent years. State elections in June, 1994, saw a record low turnout of 32.9% of eligible voters. In local elections, voter turnout has been less than 20%.

Such low numbers raise questions about how representative our form of government really is when elected officials are chosen by a minority of the public. One suggestion is to hold all elections on major election years to boost turnout for local elections.

Should all off-year elections be consolidated into major election years?

Bill Jones, California's secretary of state:

"Each entity affected by off-year elections should determine whether or not it would benefit from consolidation. Although voter turnout is invariably higher for statewide elections held during even-numbered years, the high-profile nature of these statewide campaigns may have the potentially detrimental effect of overshadowing local candidates and their issues and ballot measures. The question for local governments is: Is the financial benefit from election consolidation sufficient to accept the potential for an electorate that might be less informed and educated about local candidates and issues?"

Paul Clarke, Northridge, political consultant:

Off-year elections "are valuable to two groups of people: those who are candidates in the smaller cities who don't want to have their elections considered with other elections so they get the attention they think they deserve, and those who are the vendors for candidates, the printers or consultants. Other than that, there is no real reason to have them. . . . It doesn't make economic sense. I doubt that in the long run it makes political sense."

Steve B. Smith, political director, California Democratic Party:

"I think from a voting perspective it is far better to have as many elections issues as you can on a ballot to get as many voters out. . . . It's better for democracy. . . . The only argument (against that) I've ever heard that makes any sense is, if you have all your city council and school board and small issues on a major election day, people wouldn't pay attention to local elections. You would have more people voting, but they would be less informed on what they are voting on. There is a logic there, but I don't buy it."

Annette Hall, Reseda, president of the Los Angeles League of Women Voters:

"While I firmly believe that as much as possible elections should be combined, I do think that municipal elections, because they are closer to home and involve neighborhoods closely, would get lost if they were held at the same time as general elections. For the sake of the local communities having their elections, it is best if they were not consolidated. I deplore the fact that people don't turn out for their local elections. . . . It's just very hard to get someone excited about local elections. But it really affects them more intimately than someone they would send to Washington."

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