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California Primary Turnout Likely to be Lowest in State History

The June 3, 2014 California top-two primary appears likely to have had the lowest turnout in state history. California has had primaries starting in 1910, and the previous worst primary turnout was the June 2008 primary, which had no statewide offices (the presidential primary had been in March 2008) and which had a turnout of 28.22%.

The number of votes reported for Governor by 3:30 a.m. early on the morning of June 4 was 3,153,000. No further updates have been issued. Assuming there are 1,000,000 uncounted provisional and absentee ballots that had not yet been counted, that would still yield a total of 4,153,000 voters. California’s last Report of Registration showed 17,722,006 registered voters, so that would mean a turnout of 23.4%. UPDATE: the total reported at 5:30 p.m. on June 4 is 3,173,148; on June 5, 3,296,369.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian criticized the top-two system in this editorial, written before any election returns were known. The editorial is flawed because it predicted that Tim Donnelly would place second for Governor, instead of Neel Kashkari. The editorial is also flawed because it refers to Prop. 14 as an “open primary”.

Tim Donnelly outpolled Neel Kashkari in San Francisco and Alameda Counties, the two most Democratic counties in the state. This strongly suggests that some Democrats were engaging in strategic voting, something that would not have been possible in a closed or semi-closed primary.

10 Responses

  1. Demo Rep

    NO primaries.

    P.R. and nonpartisan App.V. — pending head to head math.

    What maniac is doing the latest recaptcha stuff ???

  2. Jim Riley

    If your conjecture about Donnelly and Kashkari were true, you would expect more Republican votes in the governor’s race than the other statewide races. But the opposite was the case.

    There were more Democratic votes cast in the Governor’s race than any other race, including those featuring quite popular San Francisco candidates such as Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, and Leland Yee.

    • Richard Winger

      I don’t agree with your logic. There are many, many registered Republicans in all part of California who voted for Jerry Brown for Governor. The polls before the election repeatedly confirmed that as many as 20% of registered Republicans were planning to vote for Brown. That type of voter then voted for Republicans for other statewide offices.

      • Jim Riley

        Statewide, there were as many Republican voters for Lieutenant Governor as there were for Governor, there were fewer Republican votes for SOS and Treasurer, more Republican votes for Controller, Attorney General, and Insurance Commissioner.

        Statewide, Brown ran ahead of Newsom by 4.5%. Brown ran ahead of Newsom by 8.0% in San Francisco, and 6.9% in Alameda.

        Your theory is that it was sneaky Democrats voting not for Brown, but for Donnelly. But that would have removed votes from Brown.

        That would in turn have required more Republicans to vote for Brown, particularly in San Francisco and Alameda.

        But it is likely that a Republican who voted for Brown, would have voted Kashkari over Donnelly.

  3. George Knightley

    Perhaps they could increase turnout by putting an initiative on the ballot to repeal top two primary.

  4. Casual Bystander

    Why not a Top One? It worked very well in the USSR!

  5. Steve Maviglio, a well-known political blogger who is a partisan Democrat, and who is a past legislative staffer to important California legislators and executive officers, said in his blog he voted for Donnelly for strategic reasons, and I have to believe many others with the same political ideas did the same. Donnelly got more votes than Kashkari in six of the nine Bay Area counties…not only San Francisco and Alameda, but also Sonoma County, which has a very weak Republican Party and is very liberal. Other adjoining counties with weak Republican Parties also gave Donnelly more votes than Kashkari…Santa Cruz, Mendocino.

    • Jim Riley

      Let’s describe two groups:

      Brown Republicans (BR), are Republicans who voted for Brown for governor, and then voted for Republicans down ballot. If they had voted for a Republican, they would likely have voted for Kashkari.

      Sneaky Democrats (SD), voted for Donnelly in an attempt to game the Top 2 system, and then voted for Democrats down ballot.

      If we compare the Republican voter for Lieutenant Governor with that for Governor, BR cause an increase, while SD cause a decrease.

      An increase was particularly notable in the Bay Area: Santa Clara 3.5%, Alameda 2.2%, Contra Costa 2.1%, Napa 1.7%, San Francisco 1.5% Sonoma 1.3%.

      This suggests the presence of BR, who voted for Brown rather than Kashkari, an absence of SD.

      Counties such as Sacramento -0.1%, Marin 0.4%, Yolo 0.0%, and Santa Cruz -1.2% might be expected to have SD, Sacramento because of the state government, Marin because of its wealthy liberals who think about vote strategy, and Yolo and Santa Cruz because of the dominance of the UC campuses relative to their population. But other than Santa Cruz, these counties favored Kashkari, in the case of Yolo almost 2:1.

      There was a decrease in many areas of Southern California: San Bernardino -2.1%, Los Angeles -1.4%, Orange -0.7%, San Diego -0.5%. Kashkari generally led Donnelly by wide margins. An exception is San Bernardino where it was almost a tie. The larger dropoff in Republican support in San Bernardino suggests some personal support for Donnelly from his assembly district.

      Northern California is less ethnically diverse than Southern California, and so it is possible that southern voters would be more willing to vote for someone of Kashmiri descent with an odd name.

    • Jim Riley

      Steve Maviglio is a Democratic operative who in this last campaign was hired by a labor union PAC, led by the teachers’ union PAC to make “independent” expenditures of over $1 million in Assembly District 16.

      Half of the money was spent supporting Tim Sbranti, half was spent opposing another Democrat, Steve Glazer. Tim Sbranti is the former head of the teachers’ union PAC (ie the folks who hired Maviglio to attack Glazer).

      Unions do not like Top 2. The reason for this is because they can control Democratic primaries. They can send out mailers to union members telling them how to vote. Civic-minded Democrats will vote somewhat randomly, and other Democrats won’t vote.

      Maviglio in his Op-Ed was promoting the idea of being a sneaky Democrat, not because he was a sneaky Democrat but as part of an attack on Top 2.

  6. Demo Rep

    How many left/right EXTREMISTS are being nominated due to the top 2 stuff – esp. if there is no incumbent extremist on the ballots ???

    i.e. 2 hacks each getting 10-25 percent of the primary votes (about 5-12 percent of general election votes) —

    could be 2 communists or 2 fascists or merely 1 of each.
    ——–
    NO primaries.

    P.R. and nonpartisan App.V.

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