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Voting in Los Angeles: Municipal and Special Elections 2017

Out of nearly 5.2 Million registered voters in L.A. County for the 2017 year, less than 900,000 of them, or 17% cast ballots for the Municipal and Special Elections on Tuesday, March 07, 2017. In the election postmortem, when the L.A. County Voting Registrar, Dean Logan, was asked by a KPCC reporter one reason why so few registered voters turned out, Logan said:

“I do think we have to make the voting process more adaptive and responsive to the way people live their lives day to day. Our current model of voting is– arguably –outdated.”

While it’s true that the current model of voting is “outdated,” it’s also true that we cannot have an honest conversation on voting without talking about racial inequality’s impact on turnout. Yet conspicuously absent from the KPCC discussion is any mention of the demographics of Los Angeles and how disaffected non-white communities in L.A. turn out to vote at much lower rates than white communities.

Logan’s discussion of “the voters” in purely abstract terms is therefore not helpful. We have information at our fingertips, and it’s meant to be used; below, for example, is a telling info-graphic on registered voters and mail-in-voters identified by race or ethnic group, as well as in terms of age groups, leading up to the election. The information is provided by Tableau Public, an open-source data website, which counted 454,971 returned ballots out of 2.2 million ballots held by registered voters across Los Angeles by election day on March 07, 2017.

L.A. County Voter Registration, according to Tableau Public

While the histogram does not account for people who identify as mixed, Native American, or Pacific Islander such as the 2013 Census does, it still proves extremely helpful in identifying “the voters.” Based on the data, we can see that in terms of registered voters in L.A., whites outnumber their non-white counterparts by considerable margins at 47%, or nearly half of all registrations. Asian-Americans took up 10.5% of voter registrations, while Blacks accounted for 8.4%. Meanwhile, Latinos accounted for 33.6% of voter registrations. Together, the combined population of Asian-American, Latino, and Black registered voters accounted for 52% of all voter registration before election day.

We can also see that in terms of age, the age group with the lowest voter registration rate is the 18 – 24 year olds in Los Angeles. At the same time, 35 – 44 year olds, 45 – 54 year olds, and 55 – 64 year olds have more or less similar registration rates at 16.6%, 16.4%, and 16.3% respectively.

The group with the second highest registration rate before the election was the 65+ category at 20.4%; while the group with the highest number of registrations was the 25 – 34 year olds in Los Angeles, at 20.7%.

Assuming that each of these groups receive ballots by mail not long after they register–which is standard procedure– the potential for at least half of registrations to turn into 2.6 million votes cast is definitely there. But when we take a look at data for the number of returned ballots, we start to see catastrophic level “drop-off” or “disappearance” rates across racial and age lines, for starters.

L.A. County Voter Turnout, according to Tableau Public

First, let’s consider the age demographics for returned ballots from voters by election day. Based on the data, we can see that the number of returned ballots from 18 – 24 year olds is exceptionally low at 3.4%, while the number of returned ballots from 25 – 34, 35 – 44, and 45 – 54 year olds is more or less the same across the board at 10%, 10.4%, and 12.9%, respectively. A significantly higher number of returned ballots comes from 55 – 64 year olds at 19.3% of returned ballots counted.

But by far, the highest number of returned ballots, a whopping 44%, come from voters 65+ and older.

Inversely, the age group with the greatest drop-off or “disappearance” after registration was the 25 – 34 year old category, with less than half of folks registered in this age range returning ballots by election day. Now, let’s consider the racial differences for returned ballots.

When it comes to the racial makeup of ballots returned after election day, white voters made up for a super-majority of all returned ballots at 64.1%. The Asian-American, Latino, and Black populations, on the other hand, made up for a combined total of less than 36% of returns.

Remember that combined non-white registration of 52%? It falls apart by the time of election day. While Asian-American voter turnout for returned ballots actually increased by 1.6% points come election day relative to their registration, for Black voters the rate of returned ballots fell slightly by 1.3% with respect to their share of registration.

However, the group which saw the greatest “disappearance”of voters was Latinos, with a 16.9% “loss” of ballots, or more than half of ballots with Latino voters going “unsent” after registration. Whites, by contrast, increased their share returned ballots from their share of voter registration by about 17% come the day of the election.

Is there a way to be more specific, however, or to see more about L.A. voters besides their age and racial category? Below, the numbers in each column show: age group, the “living situation” of voters in terms of whether they own homes or rent apartments, and some additional data.

L.A. County Voter Turnout in more detail, according to Tableau Public

This latter graphic shows that homeowners accounted for 61% of the 454,971 ballots turned in by election day, while apartment renters accounted for less than 28% of those same ballots. Additionally, we can also see that a sizable portion of vote-by-mailers were registered for November’s general election in 2016, while in 2017 less than 5,000 newly registered voters of a total of 24,519 actually cast their votes by election day.

With all of this data combined, we can say with confidence that 6 out of every 10 vote-by-mail voters for this last election were white, and that about the same share owned a home in L.A. County. At the same time, one voter was Latino, one was Black, and one was Asian-American, with apartment sharing or renting likely concentrated among these non-white groups.

In effect, what’s clear about politics in Los Angeles is that while most of its constituents are probably stuck in traffic somewhere, that is, in terms of that 52% non-white registration rate, it is mostly Senior, white, and home-owning L.A. County voters who are electing the city’s officials and policy-making decisions.

At a time when the 2011 Texas legislative session has just been indicted for drawing district lines discriminating against Black and Latino voters in favor of Republican Anglos, we might say that L.A. is a 2011 Texan Republican’s perfect empty canvas, a dreamland of political opportunity for white identity politics given the disaffection of so many non-white voters.

Isn’t that something?! But of course there’s more the story; until the next time.


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