Capitol Alert

Study charts low voter turnout by California’s Latinos, Asians

Voters cast ballots at a polling place in El Dorado on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Voter turnout hit a record-low last year with just 41.7 percent of California’s registered voters casting ballots.
Voters cast ballots at a polling place in El Dorado on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Voter turnout hit a record-low last year with just 41.7 percent of California’s registered voters casting ballots. rbenton@sacbee.com

A major reason for California’s record-low voter turnout last year was the extremely low rate of voting by the state’s two fastest-growing ethnic groups, a new analysis by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change reveals.

While just 41.7 percent of the state’s registered voters cast ballots last November, the rates of voting by Latinos (27.5 percent) and Asian Americans (36.3 percent) were markedly lower than those of whites and blacks, a combined 47.3 percent.

The very low rate of voting by Latinos occurred during a year when, as a recent Census Bureau report confirmed, they became the state’s largest ethnic group, with about 39 percent of the state’s nearly 39 million residents.

Overall, Latinos cast just 15.4 percent of 2014 general election votes, the first decline in that proportion since 2006. Asian Americans, with 13.3 percent of the state’s population, cast just 7.4 percent of the votes, the study found.

When UC Davis researchers shifted from turnout of registered voters to participation by eligible voters – citizens 18 or older – the discrepancies they found became even starker, largely due to low registration rates among Latinos and Asian Americans.

Overall, 30.8 percent of eligible Californians voted, but it was just 17.3 percent of eligible Latinos and 18.4 percent of Asian-Americans, contrasted with 39.6 percent of whites and blacks combined.

Political analysts have attributed last year’s record-low voter turnout to a lack of dramatic contests, either for statewide offices or in ballot measures. It’s expected to pick up somewhat in 2016, a presidential election year when several high-profile ballot measures will likely be on the ballot, plus a U.S. Senate contest.

Nevertheless, participation has been sliding in California for decades after hitting a high of 88.38 percent of registered voters in the tumultuous presidential election of 1964.

In recent years it’s generally topped 70 percent in presidential elections but declined sharply in non-presidential years into the 50 percent to 60 percent range prior to last year’s plunge to 41.7 percent.

Turnout in primary elections has also dropped sharply and also hit bottom last year, with scarcely a quarter of the state’s registered voters casting ballots. Turnout in local elections, especially those in larger cities, has also dropped, sometimes into the teens.

Los Angeles voters have approved shifting city and school board elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years in hopes of improving turnout. Meanwhile, the Legislature has acted to make voter registration easier and is weighing several additional bills to pump up registration and turnout, aimed at raising rates among Latinos and Asian-Americans.

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