California's primary election saw higher turnout than recent years, but most voters still skipped it

California's primary election saw higher turnout than recent years, but most voters still skipped it

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In a sign of how modest expectations have become of Californians actually casting ballots, elections officials and advocates alike found relief Monday in the final tally showing 37% of voters cast ballots in June — small compared with total registration but the highest for a nonpresidential primary since 1998.

Slightly more than 7.1 million voters participated in last month’s statewide election. Although it’s the third-highest number of ballots ever cast in a California primary — the record was set in 2000 — last month’s turnout was roughly equal to the average from similar elections since 1982.

“We’re making progress — slowly, but it’s progress,” said Helen Hutchison, president of the League of Women Voters of California.

One key question in June’s primary was whether more voters would show up in five California counties — the first proving grounds for the most sweeping change made to state elections. Those communities were the first to enact the “California Voter’s Choice Act,” a 2016 law allowing counties to discontinue the use of neighborhood polling places and exchange them with all-mail ballots and a handful of vote centers with a variety of election services.

Of the five counties that used the new system — Sacramento, Napa, Nevada, Madera and San Mateo — only one, Nevada County, saw turnout above 50%. In general, the numbers represented only modest improvements in turnout from past gubernatorial primaries.

“Most of the new innovations are focused on removing impediments – making it more convenient to register and to vote, opening up early voting, improving access for language minorities and people with disabilities,” said Dora Rose, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of California.

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