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California’s primary is Tuesday. Do voters care?

Voters register and receive their ballots at the San Francisco voting center at City Hall on Nov. 3, 2020.
Anne Wernikoff
Voters register and receive their ballots at the San Francisco voting center at City Hall on Nov. 3, 2020.

Although a whopping 81.5% of eligible Californians were registered to vote as of May 23 — the highest percentage heading into a gubernatorial primary election in 68 years — just 13% had returned their ballot as of Saturday, per a tracker from Political Data Inc.

If this trend continues, California could potentially break its low-turnout record, set during the 2014 primary election, when just 25.17% of registered voters cast ballots, the Los Angeles Times reports. That’s despite every active registered voter receiving a mail-in ballot — and also having the option to vote in person.

Why the apparent apathy? Well, when the races for state controller and insurance commissioner are among the most exciting on the ballot, it’s understandable why many Californians aren’t chomping at the bit.

Indeed, for many voters, the statewide primary seems to be a largely perfunctory affair. The biggest takeaway from a Friday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times: The incumbents in three major races are light-years ahead of their challengers, and will likely easily gather enough votes to secure one of two spots in the November general election.

Let’s take a deeper look at those two races:

  • In a 90-minute interview with CalMatters, gubernatorial candidate Shellenberger spills the beans on why he left the Democratic Party, how he would handle California’s homelessness crisis and why he changed his mind on drug policy. CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff has the highlights, including Shellenberger’s unique political philosophy: “I’m a liberal in my compassion for the vulnerable. I’m libertarian in my passion for freedom. I’m conservative in my belief that civilization is required for both.”
  • And, as criminal justice debates intensify, attorney general candidates are divided on a new law requiring the California Department of Justice to investigate police shootings of unarmed civilians, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports.

Narrowing the field of candidates seeking to fill an unusually high number of vacant seats in the state Legislature has high stakes: As Los Angeles Times editorial writer Laurel Rosenhall put it, “Turnover in the Legislature is your chance to shape how California handles the most important issues of our time.” Yet national attention is largely fixed on a handful of other Tuesday races. They include:

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.