Saturday, August 11, 2012

Neighborhood Council Elections: Beyond the Ballot Box

CityWatch, Aug 10, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 64

RETHINKING LA-Voters in the Northeast Valley turned out for the first of 11 regional Neighborhood Council elections, exceeding expectations and raising the standard for participatory democracy.

It was just two months ago that the City Council passed the ordinance that empowered the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to partner with Neighborhood Councils in conducting their elections. Sylmar, Pacoima, Foothill Trails District, Sunland-Tujunga, Panorama City, Mission Hills, Arleta, and Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Councils worked together to engage voters and stir interest in the elections and in the greater goal of regional connectivity.

At the end of the polling day, five Neighborhood Councils had exceeded their 2010 voter participation and two had historic high turnouts. Arleta failed to muster the necessary candidates to warrant an election and will be conducting a Board Affirmation in late August.

Statistical highlights include a Candidates per Open Seat ratio that was up 42.09 % and a Voters to Open Seat ratio that was up 29.84 %. There were 39 contested seats and 39 volunteer poll workers, stirring voter participation and demonstrating community support.

EmpowerLA’s approach to the elections was to move beyond the Ballot Box, aiming for greater regional connectivity, long-term outreach strategies, significant voter engagement, and opportunities to participate beyond polling day.

On all counts, participating Neighborhood Councils can say they went beyond the Ballot Box.

The eight participating Neighborhood Councils grew tighter as the election day grew closer, covering for each other and allowing successful strategies to resonate.

Outreach strategies include the Rally in the Valley, Candidate Workshops, Leadership Academy, Daily News and LA Times editorials, and a wide variety of traditional Direct Mail and Print campaigns complemented by everything from lawn signs to handbills to Candidate Corrals filled with passionate candidates and supporters.

Voters were given the opportunity to go beyond the ballot box with an EmpowerLA survey that yielded a 38% success rate and allowed voters to weigh in on the issues that drew them to the polls.

The issues that are most important to voters are Public Safety (58%), Zoning & Land Use (40%), Planning & Development (29%), and Youth Programs (24%).

Voters indicate that they heard about the elections from the Candidates (56%), Board Members (31%), Council meetings (30%), and Council Newsletters (18%).

Volunteers, Election Hours, and Polling Locations all received high marks (52%, 54%, 67% respectively) while 22% called for better outreach and 13% wanted more signage.

Voters at several polling places were given an opportunity to engage beyond the polling place, by signing up for Neighborhood Council committees, by enlisting as participants on community projects, and by joining the EmpowerLA elections team as volunteers.

The Official results for Sylmar, Pacoima, Foothill Trails District, Sunland-Tujunga, Panorama City, Mission Hills, and Sun Valley can be found at

The next round of Neighborhood Council elections take place in the Northwest Valley on September 8, 2012. Each Neighborhood Council has its own polling place and its own hours, all on the same day.