In the past couple of years, California has done just about everything humanly possible to encourage voting: Mail-in ballots. Same-day registration. Drop boxes. Extended voting. As a result, California has 22 million voters in its electorate.
That’s the good news. The bad news? So far, they seem to be bored stiff with this election.
Political researchers who track the state’s voting patterns, like Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc., project that only about six million Californians will have cast a ballot by the time polls close Tuesday.
“The election just isn’t that interesting right now to Californians,” Mitchell said on Monday, when he reported that only about 3.1 million ballots had been cast at last count.
Turnout in midterm primaries is usually much lower than in general elections, but more than seven million Californians voted in 2018. Unless there’s a rush on Tuesday, Mitchell said, the state is looking at about a 30 percent voter turnout. (That’s compared with 38 percent and 48 percent in the state’s last two June elections.)
There are a number of theories, including that the primary contests are mostly drama-free and there are no statewide voter initiatives on the ballot.
But Ace Smith, a veteran Democratic political consultant, offered a simpler theory: “No one knows there’s an election.”
In years past, he said, state and local newspapers would drive election coverage. But it has become increasingly difficult for local outlets to cover elections with fewer reporters, especially in small markets.
Californians may also be feeling election fatigue after the recall vote for Gov. Gavin Newsom in September — and they may think his re-election is a foregone conclusion after his resounding win last year. Plus, the current ballot does not have competitive races at the top of the ticket.
“It just feels to me like an orphan primary,” said Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles. “It’s a set of things where the stakes have not been elevated and are not apparent.”
In most state races, such as for attorney general, controller and treasurer, the two candidates who get the most votes will compete in a runoff in November no matter what happens on Tuesday.
But in local races, a candidate who garners more than 50 percent of the vote wins the election outright. If no one gets a majority, the race proceeds to a runoff.
That means that on Tuesday, voters could be making their final decisions for mayors of Los Angeles and San Jose — California’s biggest and third-biggest cities — as well as a number of other important local offices.
This system is a byproduct of California’s complicated election laws and will undoubtedly surprise some voters who expect to have another chance to weigh in on these contests in the fall, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation.
“There’s nothing intuitive about any of this.” Alexander said.
It is difficult to say how low turnout could affect the election results, but the ballots mailed in so far aren’t an accurate reflection of the state’s population, Mitchell said. These voters skew older and whiter, and are more likely to be homeowners and living in Northern California. “Turnout this low has all kinds of crazy impacts.”
If you haven’t voted yet, you can still mail in your ballot as long as it’s postmarked with today’s date. You can also put it in a drop box or go to your local polling place to vote in person. Polls close at 8 p.m.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Valerie Woodfill:
“I suggest visiting Sensorio’s Field of Light display in Paso Robles. It’s a unique blend of ‘Fantasia meets Dr. Seuss,’ which makes adults as well as children feel like they’re in a wonderland.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Before their wedding ended, Erika Graves and Bradley Cameron gave guests a taste of California by having snacks from In-N-Out Burger passed out on the dance floor.