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Election day: Short lines, empty voter booths are the norm so far

March 5, 2013 |  1:10 pm

PHOTOS: Los Angeles voters go to the polls

Although Tuesday’s election will result in one of Los Angeles’ most extensive leadership changes -- with residents selecting a mayor, city attorney, city controller, and eight City Council members -- attendance at polling places appeared sluggish.

Short lines and empty booths were the norm at locations across the city. At Wilshire United Methodist Church, where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa cast his ballot for his replacement, the dozens of people on hand to shoot a scene for the TV show “Revenge” outnumbered those in line.

Longtime poll workers said things had been “painfully slow” -- which was expected. Some attributed it to diminished excitement after November’s presidential election.

PHOTOS: Los Angeles voters go to the polls

Few voters were at Silver Lake’s Alessandro Elementary School when mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti turned in his ballot. 

The former City Council president and other candidates spent the weekend encouraging residents to get to the polls and have warned constituents that low turnout could mean the decision comes down to a few votes.

Garcetti said he was optimistic about participation and had been telling voters throughout the city that “it’s more important who your mayor is than even the president of the United States for your daily life.”

WHERE THEY STAND: Los Angeles mayoral candidates in their own words

“These are the roads we drive on, the economy you’re a part of,” he said. “... What people give, they get. So if you don’t show up — you can’t expect a lot.”

A spokeswoman for the city clerk's office said the agency does not comment on voter turnout until after the polls close at 8 p.m.

But experts, noting low interest and a large number of undecided voters, predicted that participation would be sparse.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

 “Local elections tend to get less attention than national campaigns, primaries tend to get less attention than runoffs or general elections. Add that all up and you’re probably looking at a low-impact election day,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

Schnur also said that the mayoral race had failed to draw people’s attention because there’s not a huge difference among candidates' stances on the issues.

“As a result you end up with a campaign that’s more about their biographies than their policy positions,” Schnur said. “Although these candidates are a very smart and accomplished group,  none of them has the type of outsized personality of an Antonio Villaraigosa or Richard Riordan.”

INTERACTIVE MAP: How Los Angeles voted

Turnout by the 1.8 million registered voters in the city is expected by some political observers to be below the 34% seen in 2005 general election, when Villaraigosa won office to become Los Angeles' first Latino mayor in modern times. The city clerk has issued 663,065 vote-by-mail ballots — about a fifth had been returned by Monday.

The median Los Angeles turnout is 26%, compared to 48% in Chicago, 44% in Philadelphia and 41% in San Francisco, according to a 2007 study by a University of Michigan professor.

"Unlike other big cities ... where people eat, live and breathe politics, they don't here," said Garry South, a Democratic consultant. He recalled living in Chicago for a year while working on a Senate race. "You go down to the bar at night, and everyone's talking about what the City Council did the Tuesday before.

"That doesn't happen here. Most people don't even know who their City Council person is, much less what they did." 

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-- Maeve Reston, Ruben Vives, Angel Jennings, Seema Mehta and Corina Knoll

Photo: Fiona the dog waits while her owner Deborah Murphy casts her ballot at a polling station at  Allesandro Elementary School. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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