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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Election 2022: With so little turnout, why does LA County even have a primary election?

The numbers were staggering.

The June 7 primary cost $82.2 million in Los Angeles County, requiring 12,000 election workers to conduct an election in which 597 total candidates were seeking 155 offices with vote by mail at more than 600 vote centers. All this in a county of 5.6 million registered voters.

But there was a missing ingredient — or at least it wasn’t enough, based on the starting numbers — in this provocative recipe for democracy: the electorate.

Less than 1 in 5 voters in LA County cast ballots, according to Friday’s data from the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. And the statewide turnout, 19.9%, was not much better.

Time to throw in the towels at Open Primary?

No, says the system’s chief co-designer Steve Peace, a former San Diego-county assembly member who designed California’s top-two primary, governing state and congressional elections.

In fact, it is time to build on what he still believes is a well thought out system, with some much needed improvements.

“The whole purpose is to empower individual voters,” Shanti said last week while reflecting on the election.

But why even the primary if relatively few people vote?

First, say the experts: History.

In early editions of primaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, you voted the way the “party boss” wanted you to vote.

“The people who control the party will decide who it is that gets nominated,” said Cal State Northridge professor Lawrence Baker.

Progressive-era political reform began to shift power from the owners and “political fixers” directly to the electorate in the primaries.

Over time the partisan primary system – which still blankets much of the country – took hold, with voters from each party choosing a candidate from their party to compete in the general election.

The desire to move away from the party-based system was the current that undermined its push for peace for the top-two primary system generations later.

“Voters don’t want others to tell them who they will vote for,” he said, noting that much of the country is still influenced by a partisan culture in which voters choose primary election candidates only from their own party. in order to determine who makes it to the general election.

In theory, the primary leads to a general election, which mathematically guarantees that the winner has a majority. But partisan primaries, as experts note, are more ideological, forcing candidates to reach political extremes. Pundits call this the “needle eye” problem, which makes it really difficult for legislators to focus on the public interest. Instead, once elected they often focus on the “far wing” of their party.

For Peace’s sake, the top two primary were a step away from this system, meant to bring in more independent voters, and move parties and candidates to the middle of the political spectrum, not overly partisan corners. Peace and his fellow top two supporters felt this would encourage a more competitive race for the state legislature and Congress.

The dome of the State Capitol shines in Sacramento, Calif. ( Associated Press Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

But CSUN’s Baker says the current system can be complicated. Voters get tired when the line between primary and outright winning elections is blurred. He noted on the primaries, a belief that “nothing is really being settled here.” This was seen in the L.A. Mayoral race between Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, where as important as the race was, the preconception was that Bass and Caruso would face off in November.

Baker notes that in California, there is no longer a healthy, strong inter-party debate that can lead to more turnout for a given party’s candidate, and this discourages voting.

“The top two don’t really allow voters to have the kind of campaign and election that I think they can understand in the end,” he said.

Shanti acknowledged this year’s low turnout, but she’s not ready to throw the towel over the open primary concept she designed. It became Proposition 14, passed by voters in 2010, and was dubbed the top two primary act.

“Low turnout has nothing to do with open primary,” he said. “It had a lot to do with Donald Trump.” Whether you loved him or hated him, he said: “People are tired” after a cycle of relentlessly heated polls.

Steve Peace (Courtesy Photo)
Steve Peace (courtesy photo)

The goal, Shanti said, in the 2012 law, which began in the open primary, was to give power back to voters in a national primary culture that leans toward the interests of the party, not the average citizen. The top two primary allow voters to choose the candidate of any party, regardless of party.

“Open Primary is about having a proper environment and giving people access to the corridor,” Peace said.

But why are voters not showing up?

It helps when the presidential race is on the ballot. But aside from the presidential primaries in 2000 and 2008, you have to go back 40 years to find the state primary, in which more than half of registered people actually voted, according to data from the California Secretary of State’s office.

There are concerned people left and right in the latest poll.

Baker noted that it has huge stakes in “down ballot” competitions involving close races. Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, was one of the candidates in one of those high-profile down ballot races, and voting results on Friday showed Garcia took the top spot, with a Democrat, Christy Smith, A Democrat, was behind. top two. He was grateful. But he lamented the low turnout for his side, despite how easy it was to vote.

“If there’s anything disappointing in any of the data we’re seeing, it’s the fact that there are 130,000 registered Republicans in my district — and we’re going to see less than 40,000 of those votes,” Garcia said.

“It’s hard for me to understand why someone would not be involved as a conservative in this environment,” he said. “The fact that we have 90,000 to 100,000 Republicans still sitting on the sidelines is a little concerning to me. I don’t know what motivating factors you need to get out and vote.”

Turnout – or rather the lack – is a concern for Kim Alexander as well.

Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, noted that the top-two primary were well-intentioned. But it may have expected too much.

“I think sometimes we get a little too creative for the electorate,” Alexander said. “It’s better to keep things simple.”

Voter literacy is important, he said, because when “you are not voting, politicians don’t see you as a threat. This goes on as long as you are not voting.”

What’s worse, however, is how the lack of voting tends to be ingrained in the political culture. “Campaigns are not focused on getting everyone’s vote. They are focused on those who are most likely to vote,” Alexander said.

Experts say this creates an uncertain kind of acceptance.

“We’ve built an acceptance of low turnout in the primaries,” said researcher Mindy Romero, founder and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy, part of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

The results are “huge,” she said, resulting in “a small proportion of people making decisions for everyone and setting the ballot in November for all of us.”

It’s not about nostalgia, she said. “It’s about voters that sometimes don’t know what’s primary and why it matters.”

Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at California State University, Los Angeles, said that without an “exciting” race at the top – and among the cultural firestorms, which have somewhat upset voters – projected low turnout. can go. He said there is poor participation in the primaries.

Peace is supporting reforms that are gradually built on the open primary system, including a top-four system associated with “rank-choice voting” – a system in which four candidates on the primary ballot, instead of two. Let’s move on to the general election.

Proponents point out that unlike plurality voting, where a candidate can win by turning a strong base, rank choice always gives the candidate the largest number of voters with the widest scope of appeal.

Alexander likes the idea of ​​rank-choice, but she also likes the idea of ​​simply getting more voter education and giving voters “more confidence.”

Baker sees potential in ranking-choice. “It demands a little more of the electorate, but it allows voters to vote for the candidate who is actually their first choice … and it allows for a little more alignment between voter preferences and the final results that are.” Makes sense,” he said.

That doesn’t mean voters who picked candidates in this year’s primaries didn’t like it. But on Election Day his views reflect how much primary voters are in the polls.

At the Voter Center in Long Beach Veterans Park, 61-year-old Long Beach resident Edith Duncan decided to vote in person for the 2022 primary elections because she lived near the polling station.

Duncan said it is very important for people to vote because “every vote counts.”

“Many people complain about a candidate, but then when you ask them if they voted, they say no. I say, you have nothing to complain about because you didn’t vote. Your extra vote could have been counted. It could have made a difference.”

It is the mood of the electorate as a whole that deals with Regalado.

Voters Arrive At Union Station To Cast Their Vote.  Voters Go To The Polls In Los Angeles Early Tuesday, June 7, 2022.  (Photo By Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/Scng)
Voters arrive at Union Station to cast their vote. Voters go to the polls in Los Angeles early Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“it is not right thing.”

“I think this is the most dramatically confusing time when so many plagues hit the country, including a very rigid and divided population and the parties involved,” Regalado said. “I don’t remember (the nation) ever being as polarized or as divided as it is today.”

This was the division that Shanti was hoping to pacify. The public’s confidence in voting as a democratic institution is Alexander’s deepest concern.

“Elections are one of the most effective forms of conflict resolution that we as human beings have developed,” she said. “If people are not participating in the elections, how are they making their voices heard?”

He said he worries that people without confidence in elections resort to extreme methods, undermining confidence in electoral security, he said.

“Those efforts are also taking a toll. It is in everyone’s interest to vote.”

Staff writers Christina Merino and Donna Littlejohn contributed to this story.

World Nation News Desk
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