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LA mayor's race: Why did so few voters show up? Blame economics

Typical voting booth and the Ink-a-Vote ballot marking machine used throughout Los Angeles County.
Typical voting booth and the Ink-a-Vote ballot marking machine used throughout Los Angeles County.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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?Los Angeles Mayor race 2013Tuesday's Los Angeles city election drew 19.2 percent of the city's voters to the polls, according to unofficial results from the L.A. City Clerk's office.

But in some areas, voter turnout was much lower (you can see just how low on our interactive map). And while some blame voter apathy on candidates who were too similar in positions to spark much drama, others see it as a symptom of economic dysfunction.

More than 1,100 people are registered to vote at the True Ever-Faithful Baptist Church on 111th and Main Street in South Los Angeles. But on Election Day, only 117 cast ballots. That's a  10 percent turnout, one of the lowest rates in the city.
Oscar Barrett, 47, has lived here most of his life and says he's registered to vote. But he doesn't see the point of voting, even though he's standing right across the street from his polling place.

RELATED: Full coverage and results of the May 21 LA City elections
"You know, you vote for the mayor and the council members and all that, and they don't do nothing," he said.
He's heard the promises: "They always run on education, create jobs, but you never see none of that down in the inner city."
Up in the distance, one can see cars on the soaring bridge that connects the 105 and 110 freeways. It was a monumental project for the region when the 105, also known as the Century Freeway, opened in 1993, a few months after the L.A. riots. But on this block of storefront churches, second-hand shops and boarded up buildings, Barrett doesn't see a comparable public investment from his mayor and council.
"All the time they're in office, the infrastructure looks the same, the sidewalks are torn up, the alleyways look like jungles, and it's just bad," he said.

Voters feel left out

USC political science professor Ange-Marie Hancock studies voter engagement. She says residents here feel left out of the economic progress of the city.
"I think the 9th District does not have a lot of constituents who feel that rebuilding has reached them," she said.
That can translate into low voter turnout. Just 13.5 percent of the district's 77,000 registered voters came to the polls on Tuesday. And while that percentage will rise some as mail-in and provisional votes are counted, it's still quite low.
"People make a very rational cost-benefit analysis and say, 'Am I going to spend the time, casting a vote, or spend the time doing something else, working, spending time with family, etc.,' when I don't think my vote is going to make a difference."
Candidates used what Hancock calls traditional campaigning in the 9th District — endorsements, mail and precinct walking — packed into the weeks before the election. The tactics might build support among likely voters — but it does not increase voter turnout.
Hancock says a different tactic — called Integrated Voter Engagement (see document embedded below) — is needed to get more people voting.
"More involvement in community development and capacity-building is really the key to getting folks to turn out to vote, particularly low-propensity voters," she said.
That means contacting and organizing voters about issues between elections. She said studies show it can increase turnout among low-frequency voters like Oscar Barrett.

Did you vote on Tuesday? Why or why not? Share your feelings with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Integrated Voter Engagement