Experts are expecting historically low turnout in the March 5 primary, an outcome that would have an outsized impact on local races where some candidates could cruise to a seat on the Long Beach City Council by winning only a few thousand votes.

A non-competitive presidential primary and few exciting issues on the California ballot have experts predicting a lower-than-normal voter turnout for a presidential election year.

President Joe Biden isn’t facing any real challenge on his path to being renominated as the Democratic candidate, and former President Donald Trump appears to be well on his way to the Republican nomination, so voters who would normally turn up to vote in those races may end up staying home.

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Even the race to replace former Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died in September, is “kind of a dud,” according to Cal State Long Beach political science professor Matt Lesenyie, who said there haven’t been many fireworks in the contest that includes multiple Democratic members of congress and Republican Steve Garvey, a former Los Angeles Dodgers star.

Lesenyie said he expects statewide voter turnout to be anywhere between 24% and 30%. Turnout in Long Beach has historically lagged behind the statewide numbers.

In Long Beach, there are four City Council races and two board of education positions on the ballot, and all but one of those will be decided in March because they only have two candidates. The remaining race for the 4th District City Council seat could also be decided if one of the four candidates gets over 50% of the vote.

The last primary election in Long Beach could be indicative of how many votes it will take for those candidates to win. In 2022, there was also no contested presidential primary and just over 29% of registered voters showed up to vote.

In that race, Councilmember Mary Zendejas was reelected with just 2,597 votes and Councilmember Roberto Uranga won his race with 3,351 votes. Councilmember Joni Ricks-Oddie narrowly missed a primary-night victory with 2,007 votes.

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Without a competitive big-ticket race to draw out voters, fewer people will vote in the down-ballot races even though the offices like City Council and school board have a large impact on people’s day-to-day lives, Lesenyie said.

“All of these offices are important,” he said on a rainy Tuesday morning. “The council or the LA County supervisors affect all your daily business, and on a day like today that could be flooding or potholes.”

Paul Mitchell, a political consultant and owner of Redistricting Partners, the firm that helped Long Beach redraw its political lines in 2021, wrote in Capitol Weekly this week that the number of people returning their mail-in ballots so far is down, and the demographic makeup of voters who have already mailed their ballots is significantly older and whiter than the electorate as a whole.

Statewide, seniors make up about 25% of the electorate but are 57% of returns at this point, according to Mitchell. White residents make up 55% of registered voters but they make up 70% of ballots returned.

Young voters (18-34 years old) are 25% of the electorate but make up just 8% of returns.

This could lead to shifts in how candidates are talking to voters, Lesenyie said. If older more conservative voters are who candidates expect to show up to vote in the next few weeks then the messaging could be catered to them.

He pointed to the issue of homelessness, something that most voters believe is a big problem but disagree on how it should be addressed. Lesenyie said older voters tend to see the issue as a nuisance that needs to be cleaned up while younger voters see it as a crisis that needs a more compassionate approach.

“If it’s not a younger electorate, you might not be worried about a safety net and equality,”  he said about candidates. “You’re not going to need them.”

That may come into play on a statewide ballot measure up for a vote that would issue over $6 billion in bonds to create housing and treatment options for unhoused people suffering from mental illnesses.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.