Opinion: Where did all the L.A. voters go?

Democratic candidates in the down-ticket constitutional contests will spend millions to build name identification and get out their voters, but the biggest impact on their campaigns in 2010 will largely come from two factors totally out of their control: 1) the drop in turnout due to the absence of a competitive primary election for Governor or US Senate on the Democratic side, and 2) the corresponding shift of a half-million votes out of LA and into the Bay Area.

It’s not that 500,000 Democrats are leaving the sun of (213) to the fog of the (415), but the effect is the same. The lack of exciting elections at the top of the ticket will reduce the Democratic electorate statewide — likely dropping participation to record lows for a non-Presidential primary. And this drop will be felt strongest in LA County.

A major cause? For years the Los Angeles County Registrar didn’t create an easy way for voters to automatically receive their ballot in the mail. As a result, in LA County only 13 percent of Democratic voters have signed up to be permanent absentee voters (PAVs), while more than half of Bay Area voters are PAVs.

On May 11, the registrar will send out 284,000 ballots to Democratic voters in LA County. That same day, counties in the Bay Area will send out 850,000 Democratic ballots. This gives the Bay Area Democrats a 3-1 vote edge at the outset.

A quick look at the last two statewide elections shows the impact of this 566,000 ballot differential. The 2008 General Election had extremely high turnout, followed by a low turnout 2009 Special Election just six months later. And in that time, LA County and the Bay Area flipped in terms of their portion of the electorate.

Portion of Statewide Democratic Turnout

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