It’s no secret people don’t show up to vote – especially at local elections. And Westwood is no exception. Just ask the 496 people who showed up to vote on behalf of the roughly 50,000-strong neighborhood in 2016’s Westwood Neighborhood Council election.
It’s obvious the way members of the neighborhood access local ballots is in need of some revamping – and that just might happen. At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the council will discuss the possibility of having an online ballot for next year’s election. In the past, the council has taken a stance against online voting because of security and identification concerns.
But given turnout in last year’s election, the council should be more open-minded about an online ballot. While Westwood’s turnout was low, other neighborhood councils that implemented online voting saw jumps in their numbers. The council should follow suit and create more options for its residents to have a say in the neighborhood’s future.
Of course, online voting is still in the test phase in Los Angeles. Some council members said they felt neighborhood council elections are being used as guinea pigs to experiment with online voting and that elections shouldn’t be held online if city and national elections aren’t either.
But previous “experiments” have turned out to be pretty successful. About a third of neighborhood councils in the city used online voting last year. Of the 34 councils that participated in online voting, 16 saw an increase in voter turnout after implementing the online platform. While this change was modest in some cases, 34 percent of all voters across the city cast their votes online.
Concerns of fraudulent online voting are similarly misplaced. The city has tried to reassure the council of its fraud prevention measures in the past, such as tracking IP addresses to limit the number of votes cast by one computer.
That isn’t to say the system is perfect. For instance, during the Studio City Neighborhood Council 2016 election, staff mistakenly released more than 100 online voters’ information. Procedures still need to be ironed out, but it’s important to note that officials were at fault, not the online platform itself.
Most importantly, however, online voting makes the democratic process more accessible for Westwood’s residents. People who live, work or go to school in Westwood are eligible to vote for council members every two years. But these sorts of hyper-local elections are notoriously inaccessible to those not completely engaged in local politics. Unlike city elections, there is only a single polling place for neighborhood council elections, which can make travel a logistical nightmare for some.
Moreover, elections have normally taken place in June, when most students are focused on finals instead of going out of their way to vote. The council’s inertia is sure to keep it from changing that election schedule, but opening the doors to online voting would allow all of Westwood’s constituents – not just homeowners and longtime residents – to take part in these ever-important yet ever-invisible elections. And considering the council already fought last year to keep its vote-by-mail option, this kind of change is directly in line with its members’ principles.
The neighborhood council is meant to increase public input, and students on the council should especially make sure those at UCLA are not disenfranchised during the next election.
After all, as this board has said before, it’s not a neighborhood council if half the neighborhood can’t get involved.