By Josh Richman
Posted: 05/25/2014 04:09:07 PM PDT# Comments
Updated: 05/26/2014 06:06:31 AM PDT

With just over a week to go before Election Day, the Golden State is gearing up for — or perhaps, altogether ignoring — what could be its lowest-ever turnout in a primary for governor.

The top of the ticket looks like a yawn, as most experts see two contenders vying for the right to lose to Gov. Jerry Brown in November. And despite California’s “top-two” primary system opening the ballot to all voters, a dearth of competitive races, the absence of citizen initiatives and general voter apathy have changed the character of midterm primaries.

Those few who are likely to vote in a primary like this year’s generally are “older, wealthier, whiter, more likely to be homeowners, more educated … and more ideological true believers,” said Corey Cook, director of the University of San Francisco’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. “Not at all reflecting the population of the state.”

It was a whole different ballgame half a century ago, when an average of 63 percent of California’s registered voters came out to nominate candidates for governor from 1950 to 1966. But a long slow decline that began around 1980 eventually brought the state to an all-time low in 2010’s primary, when only a third of registered voters cast ballots.

Four years later, more and more voters may be sitting out the primary.

“I think this might be an important election but I’m not sure,” said Enrico Howard Sr., 49, of Hayward, noting he usually votes only in presidential elections and hasn’t paid this primary much mind yet. “My ballot is still sitting on my dining room table.”In the Bay Area this year, the race for San Jose mayor and Rep. Mike Honda’s fight to keep his seat are relatively hot contests, but those are just isolated pockets of voter interest. Down-ticket statewide races rarely generate much heat, and this year is no exception; the races for state controller and secretary of state may be competitive, but they won’t attract many voters to the polls on their own.

Meanwhile, the top-two primary system and online voter registration haven’t created the bumper crop of new voters their supporters had hoped for, said Eric McGhee, a Public Policy Institute of California research fellow and an expert in voting behavior and political participation.

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