If California’s statewide primary election feels a little, well, meh in this homestretch of the voting season, you’re not alone.
With only days left for candidates to make their case to voters, most Californians hardly seem to have noticed Tuesday’s contest to winnow the field of state, congressional and legislative candidates down to two finalists. It’s especially noticeable given that there are more opportunities to participate than in any other primary election in the state’s history.
In tracking the return of mail-in ballots, it appears that even a last-minute surge of interest might not keep the June 7 election from landing near the historical low point of voter turnout — in competition with 2014 for the lowest turnout of registered voters in California history.
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The conventional explanation among many political watchers for the anemic response from California voters is that there just aren’t any exciting races on the June 7 ballot.
But that doesn’t square up with the data, even from places with big contests up for grabs. In Los Angeles, home to a fiercely contested race for mayor, only about 9% of ballots had been returned as the week comes to a close. The numbers are slightly higher in San Francisco — 16% of ballots returned — as voters there are being asked whether to recall Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin.
Early turnout has been weak, too, in the most competitive congressional races in California. District data largely track with what’s being seen on the statewide level, with a slightly better rate of ballot return in the Southern California race featuring incumbent Democratic Rep. Mike Levin and in a new Northern California district dominated by Republicans such as Assemblymember Kevin Kiley and Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones.
Perhaps the reason for low turnout isn’t apathy but, rather, uncertainty.
“I think this is an incredibly difficult ballot,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “It’s easy to fill out a ballot, but to make informed choices is a lot of work.”
Voters have been given a lot of ways to cast ballots — at home, in person, before election day, up until the last minute before polls close — but California lawmakers haven’t been as dedicated to providing the funding needed for more voter outreach and education.
“Our lawmakers love to talk about how we don’t put up the barriers to voting that other states do,” Alexander said. “But we’re also not inviting people to participate in the way that we need to.”
Campaigns certainly don’t provide consistent information. In fact, political organizations often based their efforts on whether a voter participated in the last election. Voters who might not participate, in those cases, don’t hear from the campaigns and then don’t participate this time around. And the cycle keeps repeating itself.
Keep an eye on an effort in this month’s state budget negotiations to boost funding for voter awareness efforts that are run by local elections officials. Supporters believe it’s a key step toward actually getting people to cast the ballots that, at least in this election, seem to be languishing in piles of mail and on kitchen tables across the state. (Full Story)