The Primary Is Over, But It’s Crucial to Keep Paying Attention

With a presidential election coming later this year, a U.S. Senate seat to fill and control of the House of Representatives potentially hanging in the balance, not to mention a slew of important state and local contests including the crowded race for L.A. District Attorney, the March 5 primary was a momentous one for California — but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the turnout. While the numbers won’t be finalized until all mail-in ballots are received, results as of March 12 showed just under 27% of voters in L.A. County and about 30% statewide had cast a ballot, continuing a years-long trend of civic apathy and disengagement. (In contrast, 46.89% of California registered voters participated in the last presidential primary in 2020.) And yet the stakes are higher than ever in today’s political climate, especially for peace officers. That’s why it’s important to stay informed and engaged in the long buildup to the general election, preparing to ensure your voice is heard in November.

Even as the state continues to try to make voting easier and more accessible than ever by giving citizens more choices in how, when and where to cast their ballots, experts had been expecting dismal turnout in what Politico called “California’s low-energy election.” Pointing to sluggish early voting numbers, Capitol Weekly analyst Paul Mitchell predicted record lows, tweeting, “We are staring at a potential for a sub-30% turnout election. Lowest share of registered voters ever in a presidential primary?” (However, even this low rate would not equal the lowest total number of participating voters ever, because there are more registered voters overall today.) A February Public Policy Institute of California poll showed that fewer than 40% of registered voters were either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about the presidential election, and that number dropped to 28% when it came to the congressional races. Theories about the reasons abound — including the move from June to March allowing less time to prepare, the overwhelming dominance of the Democratic Party making many results seem like a foregone conclusion, the switch to open top-two voting leading campaign strategists to game the system, the exclusion of ballot initiatives from the primary, the daunting number of races to weigh in on, and the lack of exciting candidates.

But whether you voted in the primary or not, it’s time to set our sights on November and do our best to reverse this trend. “Voter apathy is disheartening, but we must not give in to defeatism,” LAAPOA President Marshall McClain says. “It’s easy to come up with reasons why we’re too busy, overwhelmed or uninspired by the choices presented us. It’s easy to listen to the pundits telling us no one else is voting or our votes aren’t going to matter anyway, or to feel shamed for not participating and decide we’ve missed our chance to be politically involved. But it’s never too late to start paying attention and getting educated on the candidates and the issues.”

Being politically engaged doesn’t have to be complicated. It can begin by contemplating questions like “How well is my elected representative serving the needs of my community?”, “How did that measure I disagree with become a law in the first place?” and “Which candidate best aligns with my values?” As peace officers, we have important insights and expertise on the issues of criminal justice and public safety. We have all seen the disastrous repercussions that occur when lawmakers, special interest groups and voters with no understanding of the complexities of our profession make short-sighted, misguided or reckless changes to our laws, endangering the safety of our communities. It’s crucial for us to understand the process by which these changes can happen and be vigilant about the measures being introduced and considered — but the best defense is a good offense, and that means stopping these flawed policies before they start by electing candidates who are committed to addressing rising crime, holding criminals accountable, honoring victims’ rights and supporting law enforcement.

Over the next eight months, LAAPOA and our partners at PORAC will continue to do our part by carefully assessing the candidates and backing those we believe will best represent our members’ interests. We urge you to stay up to date on the races and issues, spread the word to your families and neighbors, and vote in resounding numbers. “We’ve seen that every race on the ballot matters, from judges and county supervisors to the president,” McClain says. “In the November election, we will have the opportunity to vote out damaging policymakers like DA George Gascón and decide who will be entrusted with making the laws we are sworn to enforce on the city, county, state and federal levels. And every vote matters, too. The recent low turnout shows there is a vacuum in political participation — so let’s be the ones to fill it. If we don’t buck this trend and make our voices heard at the ballot box, others are going to continue to speak for us.”