Photo: Denise Cross/Flickr

We’re going to be fully staffed tonight for the primary election. Which means we may have more people working in the office than voters who actually cast a ballot.

According to the latest Field Poll, just 35 percent of the 17 million Californians who are registered in today’s election are projected to actually turn out and vote. If that forecast holds true, total turnout would fall below the previous modern low of 42 percent in 1996, another year in which a sitting Democratic president was running unchallenged and the Republican front-runner had the nomination pretty well in hand.

“When you strip away voters in a low turnout election, you’re mostly taking away younger voters, ethnic voters, even some middle age voters,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo told The California Report’s Scott Shafer yesterday. “What’s left is people who tend to vote no matter what. We think in this election that 60 percent of the ballot will be cast by voters age 50 and older. That’s very different than the overall population of California.”

Jeez. Someone needs to start handing out lollipops. If you do happen to be one of the civic-minded elite who plans on voting, remember: at this point, don’t drop your absentee ballot in the mailbox. That ship has sailed, yo — you have to turn it in at your polling place by 8 p.m. in order for your vote to be counted.

As for what’s at stake, AP puts it this way:

Tuesday’s primary election is shaping the battleground races that will decide if Democrats can win two-thirds majorities in the California Assembly and Senate, the threshold needed to approve tax increases without Republican support.

All but 20 of the Legislature’s 120 seats are up for election this year, and all current lawmakers are running in newly drawn districts under California’s new top-two primary system.

The primary system approved by voters in 2010 lets only the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election, even if they are from the same political party. That is expected to force nearly two-dozen same-party candidates to compete against each other in the fall. The prize for Senate and Assembly Democrats would be super majorities if each can pick up two more seats this year.

The other thing affecting the dynamics of many races: the recent redistricting process, in which new districts were drawn by a citizen’s commission and not by one of the political parties.

“Ostensibly, they drew the lines without any political considerations,” says Tyche Hendricks, KQED’s 2012 election editor. “It’s making a number of races more competitive than they otherwise would be. In some cases, incumbent districts were eliminated. In the San Fernando Valley, for instance, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman are both incumbent Democrats who have been forced to run in the same district.”

The statewide ballot

“Prop 28 would tweak our term limits law,” Hendricks explains. “Currently somebody can serve in the State Legislature for 14 years, six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. Under this new law, you would only be able to stay in the legislature for a maximum of 12 years, but with no limit to serving in either house.”

As for Prop 29, the proposed $1.00 per pack extra tax tacked onto a pack of cigarettes, Hendricks says:

Twenty percent of the money would go to prevention and smoking cessation programs. The bulk would go to cancer research and research into other tobacco-related illnesses. Proponents argue that California’s tobacco tax is now below the national average. They also say the higher the tax on cigarettes, the less likely people they are to take up smoking, especially teens. Tobacco industry funding against the measure has been quite heavy, but there are anti-tax Republican groups against it as well. California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro has been outspoken in opposing the measure on anti-tax grounds. Others say it’s a regressive tax that hits poorer people hardest.”

Local elections and measures

Locally, there are two congressional races of particular interest. Longtime Democratic congressman Pete Stark of Alameda County is in trouble for a number of reasons. His district has moved further East and is now more conservative, for one. He’s also getting a serious challenge from fellow Democrat Eric Swallwell, a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor.

“If we didn’t have the top-two primary,” says Hendricks, “they would go head to head in June and one would emerge to face a token Republican in November, since it’s a Democratic district. But now Stark will probably have to face another Democrat in the general election.”

The 80-year-old Stark has also suffered a string of self-inflicted embarrassments, though he did recently land an endorsement from President Obama.

The other House race drawing attention locally is the battle for retiring congresswoman Lynn Woolsey’s seat in a newly drawn district that runs from Marin all the way up to the Oregon border. Of the large field running to replace Woolsey, political analysts are predicting the top two vote-getters will both be Democrats. The four candidates considered to be at the front of the pack: State Assemblyman Jared Huffman, author and progressive activist Norman Solomon, Marin County supervisor Susan Adams, and co-founder of UC Berkeley’s Center for Entrepeneurship & Technology Stacey Lawson. The leading Republican is Marine Corps veteran Dan Roberts.

In San Jose, Measure B is drawing a lot of attention as a belwether of voters’ willingness to allow municipalities to cope with shortfalls in pension funding by cutting benefits for public employees. KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler reports:

Measure B would require employees to make additional contributions to their plans — up to 16 percent of their pay — to help cover projected shortfalls.

The measure allows employees to avoid the extra fees by opting into a less generous plan with smaller payouts and later retirement ages [and] would provide new employees with a stripped-down retirement plan, but leaves the details for the city council to decide later. Councilman Pete Constant, who supports the measure, notes that it would leave existing pension commitments intact.

Public workers say it’s unfair to expect them to bear the brunt of a problem they didn’t create. And they say most retirement pensions are not luxurious. The average for San Jose is about $40,000 a year with a cost of living allowance of three percent…

Even opponents of Measure B agree the city needs to overhaul the terms of employee retirement benefits. But they say putting it on the ballot has turned the conversation over pension costs in San Jose into an ugly feud. Read full article

Primary Election; Find Your Polling Place by Address 25 April,2014Jon Brooks

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