Culver City looks for ways to improve voter turnout in municipal elections

With the average voter turnout for Culver City municipal elections at just 19.2 percent, the Culver City City Council is looking at consolidating municipal elections with California statewide elections. We were interested to learn that the possibility of a change, discussed at the most recent City Council meeting, was met with both acceptance and opposition.

For general elections involving those who live within the Culver City Real Estate area, the average voter turn out is 67.5 percent. That is a vast improvement over the 20 percent that have shown up over the last four city elections. City Council members want to improve the numbers but some worry that small town names and issues would get buried and ultimately ignored if they had to compete with state and general elections. Alex Fisch, who is running for City Council in 2018, stated that he thought the move to consolidate made sense. Daniel Lee was also in support, suggesting that Culver City had been in the forefront of so many initiatives already and this was another chance for the community to lead.

Not all of those in attendance supported the idea though. Former mayor Steven Gourley was concerned that voters might just vote for the state and general elections but ignore the lower elections. He also worried that local candidates would not be able to compete with those running at the state level and that their ads and issues would receive little exposure.

The most vocal advocate during the meeting for consolidation was council member Meghan Sahli-Wells while the most passionate objections came from current Mayor Jeffrey Cooper. We believed that both made some good points.

According to Sahli-Wells, “all of the arguments for consolidation seem to be pointing out that it’s harder for the candidates, but the flipside is that it’s easier for everyone else. The fact that I’m only the fifth woman on the city council in 100 years is shocking. That there’s never been an openly gay council member, or an African-American council member, in 100 years is shocking.” Sahli-Wells also pointed out that Santa Monica, which consolidated its elections years ago, is doing great.

On the opposite side of the issue, Mayor Cooper expressed his concern with the state being involved with local politics, saying, “Here we go again.”Mayor Cooper warned that just because something works in Santa Monica doesn’t mean it will work in Culver City. He said that one of the reasons that the community does so well is because the leaders have the ability to run things they way they want without dealing with state agendas.

Cooper also mentioned concern for voter fatigue and worried that even though voter turnout might improve, that voters might be less informed than they were before. He pointed out that he believed the 19.2 percent of people that were currently voting in municipal elections were aware and active in local politics, which he believed was more important that bigger numbers.

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