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Election 2014: Activists concerned about possible low voter turnout

Activists gather on the steps of the county building in Los Angeles to encourage voters to turn out for Tuesday's primary election.
Rina Palta / KPCC
Activists gather on the steps of the county building in Los Angeles to encourage voters to turn out for Tuesday's primary election.

Activists concerned about low-voter turnout in Tuesday's primary election held a series of events Monday encouraging Angelenos to cast votes in important local elections--particularly for L.A. County's next sheriff and two open seats on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

"Sheriffs and supervisors hold a tremendous amount of power," said Jess Farris of the ACLU of Southern California in advance of a rally outside Men's Central Jail in Downtown L.A. "Think long and hard because these are people who are going to be in power for a very long time."

Tuesday's will be the first competitive race for sheriff the county has seen in decades. The department has roughly 18,000 employees and an approximately $2.5 billion budget.  It runs the largest jail system in the country, along with a meaty patrol force.

RELATED: KPCC's MyBallot voters guide for the 2014 primary elections

Historically, power has been passed to hand-picked successors by each sheriff leaving office. Former Sheriff Lee Baca, who served for 16 years before stepping down in January, ran against his mentor in 1998, but then-Sheriff Sherman Block died days before the election. 

The supervisor seats up for grabs in Tuesday's primary have also not changed hands in some time. In the First District, Supervisor Gloria Molina has held office since 1991. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has represented the Third District since 1994. Both are termed out of running for supervisor this year.

Despite the importance of the positions, primary elections historically attract few voters.

"I don't see why," said activist Patrisse Cullors, who's leading an effort to strengthen civilian oversight of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

The department's faced a number of scandals in the past couple of years--though many agree it has also begun a long process of reform.

Cullors said Angelenos should head to the polls because of the large issues at stake, including continuing reform of the sheriff's department, a $1.8 billion plan to overhaul the county's jail system, and potential diversion programs for offenders with mental health issues.

"It's time to stand up and say 'enough is enough, a new day has come, no more bandaid solutions for the problems that have been here for decades," Cullors said.

There are seven candidates running for L.A. County Sheriff. If none receives over 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will head to a runoff in November.