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Big Decisions Could Be Made By Small Turn-Out Of Voters

Political Essay by KPBS Political Correspondent Gloria Penner

Senior Political Correspondent Gloria Penner reflects on Tuesday's primary election in San Diego after examining the county’s voter turnout for the last three June elections.

The winner of a political party primary goes to the November General Election and competes against the other parties’ winners. This happens in races for Congress or State Senate or Assembly. It’s different for nonpartisan races such as County Supervisor, Sheriff, or City Council. In those cases the top two vote-getters end up on the November ballot. The exception is when someone gets more than 50 percent of the votes cast. Either yes or no wins when it comes to ballot propositions.

Now why am I going through this explanation? Here’s why. Huge decisions could be made tomorrow by a puny majority of the slender minority who vote during primary elections. I give you San Diego County as an example where there are about 1.5 million registered voters. Only about one-third of them voted in the June primary two years ago.

Tuesday’s voters will decide whether term limits should be imposed on county supervisors who can now stay in office for as long as they are re-elected. Some folks think unlimited terms are a good thing because institutional memory and experience often come with many years in office. Others think new ideas develop from fresh faces and fresh thinking. The yes or no vote on Proposition B will make this historic decision. Just a handful of people could drive the result if it’s a close vote if only one-third of the voters go to the polls. We’re talking about 17 percent making the choice for all the potential voters. Is that democracy? It’s up to you to decide.

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