Despite hopes that a new primary system would lead to more competitive races and ultimately more voter engagement, a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California found turnout in 2012 was the lowest for any presidential primary in 90 years.
Two years ago, California implemented a new primary system for state and congressional races that sends the two candidates with the most votes on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Prior to 2012, candidates just had to beat out rivals from their own political party in order to move onto a runoff.
The low turnout may have been due, in part, to non-competitive races for president and U.S. Senator at the top of the ticket, according to the report. However, the primary did see more independent voters participate.
"Reform efforts to increase turnout may not prove particularly effective, but the top-two primary does appear to have already encouraged more independents to vote in legislative and congressional contests," said Eric McGhee, PPIC research fellow and author of the report.
Independent voters in primary elections tend to be older, whiter and more conservative than voters who participate in general elections, according to the report.
Another reason for the low turnout may have been the state's decision to move ballot initiatives to the fall election. Voters often show up for those initiatives so, as a result, turnout for the June 3 primary may decline an additional three-to-seven percent, the report concluded.
California's June ballot includes every Congressional and state Assembly seat, and the even-numbered state Senate seats. All the top-level statewide seats are on the ballot, but because the gubernatorial race is not expected to be competitive, that could also affect turnout. In Los Angeles County, the ballot will also include candidates for sheriff.