EDITORIAL: At least voters were smart enough to reject Donnelly

Low election turnout produces fluky results, rewards big money.

June 5, 2014 

As elections go, the California primary wasn't much, but the outcome does matter.

You could have missed it if you blinked, but California had an election Tuesday.

It wasn't much of an election. Turnout might reach 25% of the 17.7 million voters after mail-in and provisional ballots are counted. This is lackluster at best.

In a few races, the dreadfully low turnout was good for interests with lots of money to spend and the knowledge that the outcome matters. Sparse turnout also made for fluky results in some contests.

Most importantly, Californians wisely voted against giving one of the top two slots in the gubernatorial race to Assembly Member Tim Donnelly, a tea party Republican who had been arrested for bringing a gun into Ontario Airport.

Gov. Jerry Brown easily won the top-two primary, and will face former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari, a Republican. Kashkari has little chance of defeating Brown in November but probably won't embarrass the GOP; Donnelly would have.

Speaking of embarrassing, 287,590 Californians voted on election day for Sen. Leland Yee for secretary of state, the chief elections officer, even though he faces federal corruption charges that include allegations of gun-running.

Maybe Yee's voters were confused. Perhaps they were using their votes as a prank. Whatever.

Yee won't make it into the runoff. But he led Dan Schnur, a USC teacher and former political operative, and Derek Cressman, former head of California Common Cause. Both ran on political reform platforms, not that many of us noticed.

Schnur ran as an independent, which shows that even though more than 20% of Californians decline to state a party preference, a candidate's party affiliation counts. His defeat will be a cautionary tale for future candidates who don't state a party preference.

California's new top-two primary system, combined with low turnout, complicated matters for insiders and party leaders. They hate the jungle primary and seek to undermine it because they have a harder time scripting the outcome. One of those insiders is Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio. On Wednesday, he tweeted: "Whoever ... wants (to) get the #RepealTopTwo ballot measure going, give me a call. Might even do it pro bono #Top2Fail."

Californians' next date with the polls is Nov. 4. There will be plenty to decide, including several initiatives and perhaps a water bond that will be essential to a prosperous economic future for the San Joaquin Valley.

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