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To boost turnout, Culver City gambles on a cartoon mascot

An image of Birdee, Culver City's voting mascot, which is being used for the first time to promote the April 12, 2016 city election.
Culver City
Birdee, Culver City's cartoon mascot, is promoting the April 12, 2016 election in a bid to improve voter turnout.

Tuesday is election day for about a dozen municipalities in Los Angeles County and, for one city, it's a grand experiment.

Voter turnout in Culver City has been declining for decades. In some of the city's neighborhoods, just 8 percent of eligible voters participated in the last local election.

Recently, city officials came up with an idea they’re hoping will help reverse the downward trend. Why not try a voting mascot, they asked? Enter Birdee.

Birdee is a cartoon character developed by Culver City in partnership with the nonprofit See Political, which has as its mission making voting easier to understand.

The character is an owl-like bird with gray stomach feathers and a pointy beak. It stars in a series of videos in English and Spanish that the city has produced to help encourage its 40,000 residents to vote. 

The city spent about $30,000 on development and outreach materials that include banners hanging throughout the city.

Jeremy Green, Culver City's deputy city clerk, not only helped manage the project but did the character's voice-over. Before her career in government, she worked as an actor.

Green said Culver City officials are hoping Birdee will help connect people with local politics. 

"I think there’s a real importance to making government accessible," she said. 

The question now is whether the money spent on the cartoon bird will pay off: the city's voter turnout in the last local election for Culver City was 14.3 percent. City officials would like to see turnout increase by as much as 5 percentage points. 

"We live very busy lives, we spend a lot of time on the freeways," said Martin Cole, the city's assistant city manager and city clerk. "What Birdee and the Culver City Counts campaign is trying to help people understand is it takes three minutes or less to register. It takes in our municipal election maybe five minutes to actually cast your ballot." 

Polls open Tuesday at 7 a.m. in Culver City and other municipalities holding elections in Los Angeles County. Among the issues at stake: council seats and school board members in cities like Long Beach and Whittier. 

For information on local elections, you can visit the Los Angeles County registrar's website or contact your city officials.