More people live in Dykstra Hall than voted in the last year’s Westwood Neighborhood Council election.
Despite this, the council wants to make voting even more difficult for students and young professionals, as it voted last week against a proposal to add online voting to its upcoming election in 2016.
Jerry Brown, president of the council, told The Bruin Friday that he opposes online voting because he sees online voting as a way that the council is “being unfairly used on an experimental basis” and called for the state and federal government to adopt the system before the neighborhood council does. Brown has also said he has security concerns about the new voting method. Roozbeh Farahanipour, member of the council, also said he was concerned about the possibility that non-constituents could vote in the council.
Yet these reasons make no sense. There have been zero indications of any type of threat levied against the council’s voting system, and it would be ridiculous to propose that anyone cares enough to hack into a local neighborhood council’s election ballot. Instead, all this will serve to do is reduce the voting capacity of a district whose turnout is already on life support.
Without an immediate reversal, the Westwood Neighborhood Council threatens to start an opaque trend in neighborhood politics, and in effect works to prevent an opportunity for increased student and community access while favoring a method that maintains the share of votes from older, wealthy residents who own cars and can drive to the polls.
There are important reasons to ensure appropriate representation. The council does not have a decision-making power, but decisions the council makes have been significant – other neighborhood councils’ opposition to the California Senate Bill 608, which would have allowed homeless residents the right to use public space without discrimination, effectively led to the bill being tabled in April.
Furthermore, the council’s decisions have affected students, whether they are living in Westwood or walking to Westwood from their dorm for a night out. Just last year, the council voted on a design for a new fraternity house, voiced concern about a now-closed food truck lot next to In-N-Out and fought against a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard.
In simpler terms, Westwood Neighborhood Council does matter.
Yet, the voter turnout has been getting lower and lower – from more than 1,700 in 2010 to about 660 in 2014. The council has blamed the decreasing turnout on less competitive elections, but the fact is that the council have had ways to increase its turnout but hasn’t utilized it yet.
Online voting is one of the ways to do so – The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which advocated for the measure, estimated the method would triple voter turnout, in addition to cutting the cost per vote by half.
The technological rollback is ironic; after all, the creation of the council in 1999 was itself an experiment in reforming the city’s governance structure. It now appears that the council is willing to turn its back on a legacy of experimentation in exchange for conservative safety.
Many UCLA students aren’t interested in walking south of Wilshire Boulevard to vote for a local government election; but instead of making an effort to bring the polls to students, the Westwood Neighborhood Council passed up an opportunity to reach out to a big part of its constituents.