Even as the runoff election appears to be tightening to fill the vacant LA Unified school board seat in south LA, the question is not only who will win, but just how low can voter turnout go?
Set for August 12, the stand-alone election not only falls in the dog days of summer, but also hits on the first day of school, when parents tend to have their minds on other things.
Some election experts are predicting that turnout could drop below the disappointing primary turnout, which was just 13 percent.
“It will be really low, probably under 10 percent,” says Bill Carrick, a Democratic political strategist, who doesn’t have a horse in the school board race.
The vacancy, left by the death of longtime school board member Marguerite LaMotte, is a runoff contest between the top two vote-getters from a field of seven in the June primary: Alex Johnson an up-and-coming aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and George McKenna, a retired school administrator with a long record of service in LAUSD. McKenna won the primary with nearly 45 percent of the vote — shy of the 50 percent he needed to win outright. Johnson came in second, with 24 percent.
That election coincided with the statewide primary, but still underperformed estimates.
Even more pessimistic is Fernando Guerra, director the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, who told LA School Report that a runoff might attract only 5 percent of the 340,000 voters registered in the district.
A look at the history of orphan elections in the LA area supports those predictions. (See graphic).
The most recent special election in Los Angeles last December, when Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of the County Supervisor, Mark Ridley Thomas, won the contest for a vacant state assembly seat in south LA, in a race that garner an 8.6 percent turnout. Two other special elections last year were also marked by low turnout: Holly Mitchell won for state senate in south LA with a turnout of 5.5 percent, and Nury Martinez won for city council, with a turnout of 11 percent.
If low turnout predictions hold, each voter who does go to the polls has outsized clout. A turnout of 5 percent in the school board race would translate into a candidate winning the race with as few as 8,500 votes.