By The Bee Editorial Board
Californians who haven't already sent in mail ballots will go to the polls today to cast their votes in races from governor to city council.
If history is any indication, just a fraction of those registered to vote -- and even fewer of those eligible to vote -- will do so.
That's too bad. They will miss out on a historic election as the top-two primary gets its first tryout in statewide contests. Voters will be allowed to cross party lines to pick whichever candidate for office appeals to them most, no matter their designation.
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Top two, passed by voters four years ago, has already shifted political dynamics in new and exciting ways, most explosively in congressional and state legislative races. It's added a new spice of competition to elections, helping to draw public attention to races previously as compelling as watching bread rise. That's good for democracy.
The California secretary of state and controller's races are of particular importance today. Traditionally, these unexciting down-ballot races have had primaries that were all but foregone victories for party-backed candidates who would move on to the fall runoff. This arrangement discouraged other candidates from the same parties, particularly more moderate ones, from running. The top-two system has changed that for the better, bringing in a much more diverse crowd in many of the races.
That's certainly the case for the California secretary of state job, the state's top election official. There are four eminently qualified candidates running -- two Democrats, a Republican and one independent -- in a race where voters in the recent past would have been lucky to find one.
In the controller's race, there are three top-tier candidates. Former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez of Los Angeles is the Democratic favorite, as least as far as big-name endorsements go. With top two, another Democrat, Betty Yee, has a shot at getting into the general election. She might not have tried were it not for top two. The third candidate is Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican who is likely to make the November runoff.
The stakes are high in other races, such as those for the Fresno County supervisorial seats held by the retiring Phil Larson and Judy Case McNairy. To avoid a November runoff, the leading vote-getter in each race will have to attract more than 50% support.
We won't have to wait until fall to learn the identity of the next Fresno County district attorney, however -- it will be either incumbent Elizabeth Egan or challenger Lisa Sondergaard Smittcamp.
Voting is integral to democracy. Don't sit this election out.