Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
March 21, 2016 – 3:41 PM

  • Voting participation hit record low in 2014
  • Turnout is even lower in local elections
  • Latest turnout cure is merging elections

California’s voter turnout has been drifting downward for decades, finally reaching a record-low level in 2014.

Scarcely a quarter of California’s registered voters, and just 18.44 percent of its potentially eligible voters, cast ballots in 2014’s June primary. Merely 7.5 million Californians, 42.2 percent of those registered and 30.9 percent of those eligible, voted in the November election.

This decline has occurred even though the Legislature has made it increasingly easy to register and vote, including an expanded vote-by-mail system.

Clearly, it represents one manifestation of California’s evolution into a cultural stew, lacking cohesion or consensus. Clearly, too, it has something to do with a sense of disconnect among many Californians, that politics exists in another dimension, is dominated by moneyed interests and has little relevance to their lives.

Whatever its origins, declining participation in the electoral process has consequences.

It makes those who do vote – the state’s better educated, more affluent and older residents – the centers of attention by office seekers and undermines the legitimacy of those who win office.

While turnout for statewide elections has declined sharply over the years, it’s even more evident at the local level, where single-digit participation is not uncommon.

It’s a big puzzle, and no legislative session would be complete without at least one new nostrum to arrest the decline.

Last year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill aimed at increasing local election turnout by forcing local governments and school districts with particularly abysmal participation to merge their elections with statewide voting.

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