VENICE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL ELECTIONS have had some of the highest voter turnout numbers in recent years. Pictured are voters waiting to cast their ballots in 2008 at the Venice-Abbot Kinney branch library.

Neighborhood council races in Los Angeles will be far more contested than in years past after a slew of candidates filed paperwork with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment by the Sept. 28 deadline.
While there are some local council seats that will have no opposition, some incumbents will be facing challenges for perhaps the first time. “For Westside neighborhood councils, over approximately 180 candidates have filed and half those seats are incumbents,” stated Tony Wilkinson, the independent administrator for the West Los Angeles councils.
This year’s council races – which at one time were under consideration to be postponed until next year – are being conducted regionally due to the tardiness in holding the elections. Typically, they occur in April every two years.
The four advisory boards in The Argonaut coverage area are Del Rey, Westchester-Playa, Mar Vista and Venice.
Wilkinson said he believes the increase in candidate filings will translate into more voters at the polls. “This has been the theory all along: that if we have more competitive races, we will have more voters,” he said.
Matt Kline, the Venice Neighborhood Council’s outreach officer, agrees. “I certainly hope so,” he said. “As much as we worked on getting the word out, we’re relying on the candidates to bring their own voters.”
Wilkinson said the increased number of candidates is due in large part to the recruitment efforts by the councils. “The boards have been actively involved in outreach efforts and that’s good for the board,” he said.
Venice, one of the city’s most politically active and engaged communities, typically has one of the largest voter turnouts among neighborhood councils, but Kline wanted to draw in new candidates as well as more community participation in the election.
“We wanted to grow those numbers and we wanted to reach a different demographic, not just the same people who vote in every election,” Kline explained.
In addition to holding a candidate mixer at the Canal Club in Venice, the council also used social networking and its website to solicit new members. “We also tried to recruit Spanish-speaking community members,” Kline said.
Ivan Spiegel, a Venice resident who has worked as an elections supervisor for Los Angeles County, said residents who are not legal citizens are permitted to vote, even if English is not their native language.
“A stakeholder’s immigration status is not an impediment to voting in a neighborhood council,” said Spiegel, who is the Venice council’s parliamentarian.
A written legal opinion by former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo confirms Spiegel’s assertion. In 2004, Delgadillo’s office stated that neighborhood councils are not subject to state or city election codes that require voters to be citizens.
“Neighborhood councils cannot prohibit undocumented aliens or convicted felons from voting or by running for a neighborhood council board seat,” Delgadillo wrote.
In 2008, in an effort to include more voters in neighborhood council races, the City Council passed a law that  allowed anyone who “affirmed” a stake in a certain community the right to vote in that neighborhood’s election. Known as the factual basis voter law, this extended the pool of eligible voters from those who live, work or own property in a particular neighborhood.
These potential voters are not required to live, work or own property in the area where they wish to vote. As long as they can “affirm” an interest in a particular neighborhood council, the voters are permitted to cast ballots in that local board’s elections.
Those claiming a “stake” in a particular neighborhood council can attest under penalty of perjury that they have an interest in a neighborhood council by frequenting a neighborhood park miles outside of where they reside, dining frequently at a restaurant in a certain neighborhood or in the case of Westchester-Playa, anyone flying in or out of Los Angeles International Airport.
Wilkinson said each council’s bylaws govern who can vote in an election.
“There’s nothing to prevent anyone with a legitimate stake in a neighborhood from voting there,” he said. “The challenge comes in how a factual basis stakeholder will be treated. They would get a separate ballot for the affirmation seat at most polling places.”
But not in Del Rey. There, a potential voter can purchase a meal, show the receipt at the election location and affirm a stake in the election.
Most neighborhood councils were opposed to what several felt was the  City Council imposing an ordinance on them that had the potential for an election to be taken over by outside groups, which has occurred in West Los Angeles and was attempted in Mar Vista years ago. Others pointed to Westchester-Playa, where it was reported that construction workers were bussed in to vote for a certain slate of Playa Vista-friendly candidates.
After the council ordinance, Westchester-Playa, Mar Vista and Venice created one seat for which factual basis stakeholders may vote.
Kline said it was a learning experience for him during the recruitment drive to learn that there are many people who are unaware of what the council does and in some cases of its existence.
“We have to remember sometimes that it’s easy to lock yourself in a bubble without realizing it and think that everyone is politically active,” he said. “Venice has a lot of politically active residents but there are still people who don’t know what we do.”
According to Wilkinson, the number of voters in other regional races this year is ahead of the 2010 totals. “I think that underscores the fact that (neighborhood councils) are teaching ordinary folks how to work with government and how to work for change,” he said.
The Mar Vista Community Council considered a new rule at its Oct. 9 meeting regarding potential election tiebreakers. The resolution recommended, “In the event of a tie for any elected board member seat, the tie will be broken by the flip of a coin administered by the designated elected official overseeing the election.”
The resolution was offered by board treasurer William Scheding, who noted that there was no provision in the council’s bylaws governing a tie.
In an interview before the vote, Scheding called the coin flip a “classic way to solve a tie.”
The board treasurer said that after the election he will recommend that the community council make the coin flip a part of its bylaws.
The Westchester-Playa, Venice, Mar Vista and Del Rey councils will hold their elections Oct. 28. Information, EmpowerLa.com.

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