Organization Hopes Efforts to Rally South LA Voters Pay Off in City Election
Twice a week, 18-year-old Javier Gomez works the front desk at Community Coalition in South Los Angeles and helps guide first-time voters. But on March 7, Gomez will be casting his own ballot for the first time.
“Living in South LA, I’m looked down on as a minority and we don’t really have much of a voice,” Gomez said. “That’s when voting kicks in so it gives me more of a voice than I would have on the streets.”
A Latino resident of Council District 9, Gomez believes his community must take advantage of the right to vote. However, voter turnout for local elections has been notoriously low in Los Angeles.
Four years ago, only 21 percent of registered voters in Los Angeles cast votes in the mayoral election between then-candidate Eric Garcetti and other well-known rivals, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis that used data from the Los Angeles City Clerk. The voter turnout for mayoral elections has declined steadily since 1969, the analysis showed.
During that same primary election, Latinos and those ages 18–29 voted at some of the lowest rates compared to other groups, according to a study by the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA.
While reasons for low voting rates among minorities in California may vary, a study by UC Riverside’s School of Public Policy and other partners found that people in those groups may not necessarily lack an interest in politics, but that they feel less empowered to participate and may be inadequately informed about the political process.
“We have a history of disinvestment in this particular part of the community,” said Rosemarie Molina, civic engagement coordinator at Community Coalition, an organization working to spark political engagement in South LA. “A lot of them for right reasons believe the system won’t work for us anyway and so what we do here at Community Coalition is challenge that narrative.”
This February, the organization aimed to reach out to 12,000 South LA residents before the March 7 Primary Election. While Los Angeles youth and minorities have had historically low voter participation, Molina believes, “If you reach out to them, they do vote. If you validate why they’re feeling that their vote doesn’t matter and show them that it does, you can turn that person into a likely voter.”
Community Coalition attempted this in the presidential election last November. The organization led over 100 volunteers in cold calling campaigns to educate residents on measures and convince potential voters to show up to the polls. Additional outreach initiatives include training organizers to go out into their own neighborhoods and have door-to-door conversations.
According to Molina, while just 56 percent of eligible millennials in Los Angeles voted in the November 2016 election, 75 percent of millennials voted in South LA Districts 8, 9, and 10, where Community Coalition focused their outreach.
“It’s imperative that it’s someone who lives down the street from you, who knows what it’s like to live here,” Molina said. “Then they can ask you to vote and use your political power to invest in the community that way.”
According to Terry Smith, Community Coalition’s phone bank coordinator, most people the organization reaches out to are not particularly attached to any of the candidates running for mayor or the City Council. This lack of interest has forced Community Coalition to educate residents on measures and propositions as opposed to candidates.
“We said, ‘well that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote.’ These local measures that will directly put money, power and resources back into the hands of the people of South LA,” Molina said. Most disengaged residents were eventually swayed, she said.
Los Angeles voters will have a chance to vote for seats in mayoral, city council, and other city offices on March 7. School board and community college trustees will also appear on the ballot, in addition to four city measures and one county-wide measure.