Tuesday is a big day for California. The primary on June 5 sees elections for governor, all 80 seats in the State Assembly, 20 of the 40 seats in the state Senate, and all 53 of California’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives on ballot—in addition to various local and state offices. Under California’s “jungle primary” system, all candidates will appear on all ballots tomorrow regardless of party affiliation, and the top two overall vote-getters will advance to the general election in November.
Voter turnout in these races, and who those voters are, will have a massive impact not only in the results of state races but also the critical races Democrats hope to win in order to take back the House.
Historically, voter turnout in California has been low in non-presidential election years. In 2014, turnout in the state was just 25%, and as noted in the Los Angeles Times, “the last time that a majority of California’s electorate showed up for a non-presidential primary was 1982.” Research by Political Data Inc. however, indicates that Republicans typically turn out for midterms in much higher numbers than Democrats and that the Democratic statewide advantage “could drop by as much as 3 percentage points in June.” With contested primaries fielding as many as fourteen candidates, 3 percentage points could make a massive difference.
As of Friday morning, Political Data, Inc.’s tracking of absentee voters found that about 1.84 million of the 11.59 ballots mailed to California voters had been returned—roughly 16 percent of the total number sent.
Despite the number of statewide offices with open seats, “we haven’t seen any of the candidates emerging as truly inspiring or wildly controversial,” Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne, told The Press-Enterprise. “A lower turnout means that the gap between Democrats and Republicans narrows.”
Meanwhile, the California Secretary of State noted on May 21, that the Republican Party is now officially a third party in California: Democratic Party registration: 8,438,268 or 44.4 percent; Republican Party: 4,769,299 or 25.1 percen; No Party Preference: 4,852,817 or 25.5 percent. There are also 963,033 “Other” votes on the table.
Los Angeles County historically has had very low turnout in midterm elections. But this year, locally popular former Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa is vying with Trump supporter, Republican businessman John Cox for the second spot in the top-two primary for California governor, with Cox getting a visibility boost from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom who is widely expected to be the top-vote getter on Tuesday. This may mean that LA has a potentially crucial role to play in both the governor’s race—and the possible flipping of the U.S. House of Representatives to a Democratic-majority chamber in November—if people turn out to vote.
Newsom and Villaraigosa both spent Sunday morning campaigning at church services and local news outlets, including the LA Times and KTLA, provided LA County voters with vital information on candidates and polling logistics.
In Hollywood, RuPaul Charles used his platform with the LGBT community to endorse Newsom for governor. He also encouraged young viewers to vote, a critical sentiment considering that voters aged 18-24 are overwhelmingly Democratic but the least likely age demographic to actually vote. However, Newsom failed to win the official endorsement of his hometown LGBT political group, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, perhaps because he didn’t submit a questionnaire or send a representative to respond to PAC questions. Neither Stonewall Democrats nor Stonewall Young Democrats—nor the California Democratic Party—have taken an endorsement position on Villaraigosa or Newsom, both of whom are strong LGBT allies.
Other endorsements appear more regional: Villaraigosa is endorsed by the LA Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Newsom is endorsed by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee (co-endorsement for John Chiang) and the Mercury News. It is unclear, however, what impact these endorsements may have.
Canvassing efforts have intensified by both Democratic and Republican groups in San Diego County over the past few days, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. In addition to campaigning for candidates for local office, volunteers have been advocating for congressional and gubernatorial candidates through phone banking, knocking on doors, barbeques and sign-waving. Two potential House swing districts (CA-49 and CA-50) lie partially or completely in San Diego County.
Meanwhile, the California Democratic Party is out in force, as evidenced by photos on its Facebook page, urging volunteers to knock on doors and canvass in three-hour shifts in two key congressional swing districts in Orange County (CA-48 and CA-49).
“It’s very important that we get everyone out to vote. The stakes are high. In education. In Congress. And so, we need to make sure that all Californians get out to vote; that we protect the things that we’ve built here…we’re going to fight hard for them, and make sure we turn out the vote during this election,” endorsed Democratic Party candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, says on the CDP’s FB page.
There is one huge concern about turnout. In psychology, there is something known as the “bystander effect” in which everyone in a crowd of witnesses to an emergency assumes that another person will get help, that they themselves don’t need to be that person. The fear—especially among LGBT politicos who know how critical the midterms are for LGBT rights—is that the “bystander effect” will emerge as the media touts how massive the “big blue wave” is supposed to be. But every vote really does matter in what could be closer elections than were first expected.
To find out more information on how to vote in the June 5 California primary election, and to find your polling station, go to the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk or the Sec. of State’s office. – Karen Ocamb contributed to this story