Voter apathy threatens Inglewood’s special election

What if there were an election and no one voted? That’s what happened in Inglewood, or nearly so. In the November 3, 2009 countywide election, only 86 Inglewood voters cast ballots– less than one twentieth of one percent of the city’s electorate.

Inglewood’s 0.18 percent turnout took place during L.A. County’s consolidated elections. By comparison, turnout rates in other cities for the same election included 8 percent in Compton, 10 percent in Pasadena, and 11 percent in Lancaster, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Statement of Votes Cast. Ballots consisted mainly of city council and school board races.

The specter of low voter turnout concerns Inglewood leaders and community activists, especially in light of an upcoming special municipal election slated for June 8 to fill the mayoral seat vacated by Roosevelt F. Dorn, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict of interest charge in January.

“Nobody believes in government anymore because there are so many crooks, and people don’t care. There is no care in the government anymore,” said Stacie Williams, a community activist and advocate for youth facilities and housing. “It’s just a lack of professionalism and a lack of care in the city of Inglewood and that needs to stop.”

But the publicity surrounding Dorn’s departure may have the opposite effect, actually increasing voter turnout, said Michael McDonald, a voting expert at George Mason University. “It raises the profile of the election,” he said. “People are talking about it and anything that helps communicate to people that there’s an election will improve the turnout.”

A recent election that was strictly municipal fared somewhat better, by comparison. On June 12, 2007 about 18 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots in a runoff for council district 1. The victor, Daniel Tabor, won by 200 votes.

“It [was] a local special election,” McDonald said. “Those are the kind of races that tend to draw the lowest level of turnout.”

Yvonne Horton, Inglewood’s city clerk, said the city’s voter turnout is “no more poor than others.” She said she does plan to do her part to raise awareness about the upcoming election.

“I am going to keep on asking them, every Tuesday [during council meetings] and every time I go out,” Horton said. “We can always try, [but] we can’t make people vote.”

Inglewood voters, like voters everywhere, are far more likely to turn out for a presidential race, said Michael Falkow, Inglewood’s chief information officer. About 84 percent of Inglewood voters cast their ballots in the last presidential race. It was a voting rate that reflected the enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama’s candidacy, which helped push voter turnout nationwide to a 40-year high, according to the Associated Press.

But within the context of national and statewide turnout rates, Inglewood’s voting rate in that election was about average. “The president is the most visible political symbol of America,” said Curtis Gans, an expert in citizen political participation in the U.S at the American University in Washington. “We have an eroded community; therefore fewer and fewer people are participating in local government and the people that do participate tend to be the same people.”

Falkow said that city leaders are hopeful that increased community attendance at city council meetings in the wake of Dorn’s departure will translate into ballots cast in June. But he is skeptical.

“I highly doubt that they’re all coming out just because the Mayor resigned,” Falkow said. “I would think that they’re coming out because they are finding out a lot of things about what’s going on that maybe they didn’t know.”

In the case of Inglewood resident Raynald Davis, that is exactly what happened.

“I want the city council to be transparent and let us know what is happening,” Davis said. “Tell us what we need to know, not what we want to hear.”

According to Gans, it is up to the city to restore the confidence of its residents in local government and inform them of what they stand to lose if they don’t cast their votes.

“They need to improve education, promote civic values, reduce the negative impact of media, strengthen unions, and change the way candidates conduct their campaign,” Gans said.

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