By the June 5 election in California, the presidential candidates for both parties will have been decided. Both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama face no primary challengers.
Because of this it is very likely that few will turn out to vote. According to a study by George Mason University, only three percent of Rhode Island’s eligible voters turned out to the polls.
However, there are also a number of state and local ballot measures that will be voted on at the same time. While far less publicized, these propositions could have potential to affect people’s lives.
On a statewide level, both Proposition 28 and 29 are set to be voted on in California.
Proposition 28 seeks to reduce state term limits for state senators and assembly members from 14 to 12 years, while 29 would put an $1 additional tax on all packs of cigarettes.
Even though these are important issues, few people are likely to go to the polls. Most of the time and money is spent on the presidential campaign, leaving the ballot measures overshadowed.
Because few people will vote, important and possibly controversial issues will be voted on by only a small number of people. This can easily be used politically; if there is an issue that won’t necessarily be approved by the majority of eligible voters, it can be put on the ballot at a time when most won’t go to vote.
In many cases there is one party whose primary holds more interest than the other. In this case, Romney is very likely to win, but for the majority of primaries he has had an opponent while Obama faces unopposed in the race as Democratic candidate.
Also, the Republican race has received much more attention this election due to a drawn out and contentious primary season. This means that more conservatives will likely go out to vote. A turnout skewed to one party doesn’t necessarily represent most Californians’ opinions.
The solution to this problem is twofold. The long term solution is to stop holding primaries the same day as elections. While it is easier and more cost-effective to double up, the results aren’t worth the savings. If the point of an election is to represent the people, then having one that fails at this is worse than not having one at all.
However, the more immediate fix is greater awareness. The state should sponsor public service announcements telling the public that there are ballot measures to be voted on. Also, people must take it upon themselves to go and vote. Ignoring a primary just because it won’t affect presidential nominees isn’t the right answer.