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What We Know About Turnout For The 2022 California Primary

A person stands at a voting booth amid a row of booths.
A voter casts their ballot for the California Primary Election at the Union Station voting center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 7, 2022.
(Trevor Stamp
for LAist)
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Low and slow. That’s how analysts characterized voter turnout ahead of the 2022 primary election, and that’s how it continued through Election Day.

Where things ended up:

  • When the vote tally was certified on July 1, L.A. County's Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk reported that 1,620,593 ballots were processed and counted, with 28.48% of eligible voters casting ballots in Los Angeles County.
  • Statewide turnout was 33.1% — down significantly from the 2020 primary which drew nearly 47% of eligible voters.

Mindy Romero, director of USC’s Center for Inclusive Democracy, says numbers are usually low for primaries without a presidential race. In 2018, for example, L.A. County saw 29% turnout of registered voters. In addition to that, she says, the top ticket this year hasn’t been drawing as much attention.

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Still, Romero says this year’s early numbers are disheartening.

“If we're going to get serious about changing these numbers, there's a lot of work that we have to do to kind of make the case for why primary voting is important,” she said. “And to make it easier for people that have a harder time getting access to information.”

In the 2020 primary, L.A. County saw 38% registered voter turnout, but that ticket included presidential candidates.

Then, last year Gov. Newsom beat a recall effort last year through an election that drew in 58% of registered voters. “I think for some voters, there could be some voter fatigue,” she said.

“One of the largest predictors of turnout is whether the race is competitive,” she said. “This time around in California, we really don't have, by most measures, a competitive governor's race. You could say, as many people have, that we had the ‘reelection’ of Gavin Newsom last year.”

Prior to the primary, political analysts warned that if the numbers didn't pick up, turnout might compete with a record-low from the 2014 primary, when thestate saw 25% registered voter turnout and L.A. County saw just 17%.

But Romero also said it’s better to compare the total votes counted against overall eligible voters instead of registered ones. Eligible voters are citizens who are 18 years or older and have the legal right to vote. The DMV in 2018 started to automatically register people who are eligible, which boosted overall registration numbers.

In 2014, 824,070 of voters turned out in L.A. County, with an eligible population of about 6 million. And as of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, elections officials received 1,041,758 ballots, with 6.7 million eligible voters.

Using those numbers, eligible voter turnout in 2014 was 14% in L.A. County, and about 15% so far this year — ever-so slightly higher than before.

Low Numbers High Stakes

The city of Los Angeles — with a hotly-contested open seat for mayor — could have a major advantage in getting voters to the polls, Romero said.

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But as of Thursday, only about 440,708 ballots out of 2.1 million ballots were received (21%), according to Political Data Intelligence.

This is the first year that the city mayoral race aligns with the statewide races after city officials changed the election calendar in hopes to boost voter turnout. In 2013, when there was also an open seat for mayor,only 21% of Angelenoscast their ballots.

Unlike statewide primaries, where the top two candidates face off in the general election in November, candidates in L.A. city and L.A. County races can win outright in the primary if they get more than 50% of the vote.

That wasn’t the case with L.A.’s mayoral race. The two leading candidates, billionaire developer Rick Caruso and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass will face off in November. Nor was it the case with L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who is running for reelection. Villanueva will compete with the other leading candidate, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.

You can find out more about the candidates in LAist’s Voter Game Plan.