SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — With no divisive initiatives on the ballot Tuesday, the first statewide election under California's top-two system was not drawing much interest from voters despite some fiercely contested seats for Congress, the state Legislature and statewide offices.
Two Republicans are vying for the chance to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown in November, with all statewide offices up for grabs, including intra-party fights in the races for secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction.
Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, voted in a firehouse near their Oakland hills home Tuesday accompanied by their dog, Sutter. Brown, 76, said he's got a special opportunity to serve in his unprecedented bid for a fourth term as California governor.
"I have learned a lot, and I hope if the people give me another four years that I can deserve their confidence and trust and lead California in so many different ways," Brown told reporters after casting his ballot.
Voter turnout has been trending downward in California primaries over the last 20 years. Turnout Tuesday is expected to be low — perhaps matching the record low of 28.2 percent in 2008, when California split its statewide primary and presidential election contests, said Paul Mitchell, vice president of consulting firm Political Data Inc.
Some would-be voters weren't even aware of what was on the ballot.
"What are we voting for today?" asked Tom Fugedi, 40, an actor in Venice and a registered Democrat.
In Los AngelesCounty, a few polling places had early stumbles. Poll workers failed to show up at a handful of places and several reported equipment problems, such as a voting machine breakdown.
In Sherman Oaks, a polling site that should have opened at 7 a.m. was closed as of 10 a.m. and more than two dozen voters were tuned away, while Malibu residents had to wait more than four hours for one polling site at a fire station to be set up, the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News reported.
Poll workers from an emergency pool were sent out to staff some places but only a "slim number" of the 5,000 polling sites had problems and all were later up and running, said Elizabeth Knox, a spokeswoman for the county registrar recorder/clerk's office.
In the Republican gubernatorial primary, conservative state lawmaker, Tim Donnelly, faces Neel Kashkari, a socially moderate investment banker.
Kashkari voted in Laguna Beach with his girlfriend, Christine Ong, and his two dogs, Newsome and Winslow. He said he would like to challenge Brown on issues facing middle-class families.
Kashkari said if he wins the primary, he'll hold Brown accountable when it comes to jobs, education and other issues facing middle class families.
Donnelly voted in his hometown in the mountains of San Bernardino. Asked about Democratic activists who cheer his campaign on believing he'll hurt public perception of Republicans, Donnelly noted Brown's father's failed bid for a third term.
"Pat Brown actually worked really hard to make sure that Ronald Reagan was the candidate who would face him because he thought he'd be easier to beat than the establishment candidate," Donnelly said.
"That turned out to be a major underestimation of his opponent."
Many ballots will be cast by mail at the last minute or dropped off at polling places on Election Day, meaning the outcome in several races could remain up in the air well past election night.
Fresno County Registrar of Voters Brandi L. Orth said voting was slow in the morning, but picked up in the afternoon.
At an elementary school in Fresno, M.J. Borelli, a 62-year-old Democrat, said Brown earned her vote because he has balanced the state's budget and is familiar with state's water struggles.
"He's doing a great job," Borelli said.
Water was same reason Tim Maltsberger, a 58-year-old Republican, cast his vote for Donnelly at a busy Fresno polling place. Maltsberger said he didn't like Brown the first time he was governor decades ago.
"He was a flake back then, and he's a flake right now," said Maltsberger.
Though Tuesday's ballot has no hot-button initiatives to lure voters, there are a number of hard-fought congressional and state legislative races in which candidates hope to unseat incumbents in the fall.
In far Northern California, voters will determine whether two counties will join a movement to secede from California, while voters in a third county, Siskiyou, will decide whether to pursue changing the county's name to "Republic of Jefferson."
Voters will decide just two statewide propositions, both placed on the ballot by lawmakers. One will require local governments to comply with the state's public records law and pay for doing so, while the other is a $600 million bond for veterans housing.