Election? What election?
Tabitha Benoy of Woodland Hills plans to skip Tuesday’s election for mayor of Los Angeles.
“It’s never even occurred to me to vote for the mayor,” said Benoy, a 37-year-old social worker who tends to vote for president and not much else. “It seems like there’s so many elections. It’s too much to deal with.”
Conditions are ripe for dismal voter turnout next week. Mayor Eric Garcetti faces only token opposition in his run for a second term. Nothing else on the ballot — including measures on marijuana and homelessness — has stirred much voter passion. And the rancor of the 2016 presidential race has left many voters exhausted.
In that climate, Los Angeles stands a good chance of hitting a record low for turnout in a mayoral election, upholding its reputation as a bastion of voter apathy.
“I don’t really even know the mayor’s name, to be honest with you,” said 25-year-old Jackie Riddle of Brentwood, an independent-living instructor for adults with disabilities.
In Riddle’s social-media circles, President Trump’s daily dramas dominate conversation these days. “There’s constantly people posting about that, but nothing local,” she said on a coffee break with a client in Westwood.
Recent interviews with nearly two dozen voters across Los Angeles made clear their overwhelming disengagement from local affairs. Many of them knew little or nothing about Garcetti.
“We’re lazy,” said Victoria Gonzalez, 53, who was walking her dog Trixie near her home in San Pedro. “That’s what it comes down to — just being lazy and thinking one vote isn’t going to help.”
Gonzalez was unaware that a city election was coming up. The media she consumes, she said, is too focused on the rich and famous, and not enough on local news.
The waning of L.A. politics coverage as news outlets have shrunk in recent years has indeed left many residents uninformed about what’s at stake on the ballot.
“I think it’s really hard for people to answer how my life will be different if I vote for ‘Candidate A’ or ‘Candidate B,’” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in campaigns and elections.
L.A.’s confusing patchwork of place names adds to the problem, leaving many voters unsure whether they reside within the city’s boundaries.
Kojo Annor, 40, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years, wanted to vote for Garcetti next week. But Annor, a biotech engineer and immigrant from Ghana, didn’t realize that his move last year from Woodland Hills to Castaic made him ineligible to vote in the city election.
“Really?” he asked with a quizzical smile when told that he no longer lives in Los Angeles.
Sean Clegg, a Bay Area consultant who has worked on mayoral campaigns in both L.A. and San Francisco, said Los Angeles has one of the nation’s most apolitical urban cultures. “It’s a place so sprawling that a sense of community, and of your ability to have an impact on that community, feels much more like a drop in the ocean,” he said.
Mayoral elections in San Francisco often draw about double the voter turnout that they do in Los Angeles.