Seven Local Elections Canceled

By Kim Alexander, for the California Report
Aired March 2, 1999

Intro: Today is election day in many California cities. But voters in seven southern California cities won't be going to the polls today. That's because their local elections were canceled due to a lack of competition. The cities of Lakewood, Beverly Hills, Hidden Hills, San Gabriel, City of Industry, Monrovia, and Rolling Hills had originally scheduled municipal elections for March 2, but canceled because no candidates stepped forward to challenge city council incumbents.

State law allows cities to cancel elections when there is a lack of competition as a way to save money. Some observers cited voter apathy, the high cost of running for office, and a general contentment with the status quo as prime reasons for the canceled elections. But there's more to it than that.

First of all, there's a lot of confusion about elections in California. Most voters go to the polls at least once a year. That's because many of California's 472 cities hold their municipal elections in "off-years", such as 1999. Given the lack of public information and media coverage, plus general voter confusion and burnout, it should surprise no one that turnout for these municipal elections is abysmally low, or that they fail to draw many candidates.

Some cities consolidate their local contests with state and federal elections held in even-numbered years. This helps increase participation, but the downside is that the municipal elections are often overshadowed by the higher-profile federal and state contests.

For that matter, how can voters be expected to keep track of the assortment of politicians we elect to represent us? Some counties, like Los Angeles, now offer a search feature on their web site where you can type in your address and find out all the political districts you live in. I searched my parents' address in Culver City, and found out they live in 15 different political districts, including the L.A. County Flood Control District and the Metropolitan Water District.

I suspect that many California voters, even the most committed, find out that they live in these districts only when they go to vote. How many times have you said to yourself, "Gee, I didn't know I lived in a community college district?" Sure, canceling elections saves taxpayers money, but in the long run, if uncontested electoral offices don't appear on our ballots, it's unlikely many of us would even know we lived in these districts and had voting responsibilities.

The Internet is the best place to begin addressing these problems, and the California Voter Foundation is exploring ways to better inform voters about local elections, as well as provide resources about how to run for public offices. Promoting affordable and effective ways for candidates to get their message out will also encourage more people to consider a run for public office.

For the California Report, I'm Kim Alexander.

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This page was first published on March 2, 1999 | Last updated on March 2, 1999
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