Why California Voter Turnout Is Expected to Be So Low

By Soumya Karlamangla and Shawn Hubler,
The New York Times,
June 7, 2022


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.)

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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. (Full Story)