Los Angeles County voters will go to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in local, state and national political races, as well as on two statewide ballot initiatives and several local initiatives.
Without a high-stakes presidential primary—Republican Mitt Romney has already earned the delegates he needs to claim the GOP nomination—voter turnout is expected to be low.
The county's 4.5 million registered voters will have the chance to select a presidential candidate, a U.S. Senate candidate and whether to approve two state ballot measures—one to add a $1 tax on cigarettes to fund cancer research and another to reduce the amount of time politicians can serve in the state Legislature from 14 years to 12 years.
Six candidates are vying to become Los Angeles County's top prosecutor.
Voters across the county will also weigh in on a total of 18 U.S. House, seven state Senate, 24 state Assembly and three Los Angeles County supervisorial races.
The election will mark the first major test of the state's "top two" primary system approved by California voters in 2010. Under the system, only the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party, will advance to a Nov. 6 runoff.
The system does not apply to local, presidential or central committee races.
The system was intended to produce more moderate candidates, said Fernando Guerra, a Loyola Marymount politics professor and director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles.
The intention, however, is likely to be counteracted by low voter turnout.
"Voters that are motivated by ideology are still going to dominate this election," Guerra said.
Guerra said the "top two" runoff system is also likely to devastate
"I predict there will not be a single third-party candidate on the [runoff] ballot in November for the first time in decades, in almost 50 years," Guerra said.
In some cases that could leave as much as 10 percent of the electorate up for grabs during a runoff election.
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said it could force candidates to communicate more with voters.
It's not just a quantity of voter communication. It's the nature of that communication as well," Schnur said. "Candidates will find that they can no longer rely solely on the most ideologically intense members of their own party. They will be forced to reach out to a broader range of voters."
The results of the every-10-year redistricting process also affected the makeup of candidates on Tuesday's ballot. The 2010-11 redistricting, the practice of redrawing political district boundaries to reflect changing demographics, was conducted by a non-partisan citizens commission, rather than lawmakers. In some cases the process forced incumbents of the same party into the same district.
The most high-profile case involves veteran congressional Democratic incumbents Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who were forced into the same San Fernando Valley district and have been running a heated campaign against one another.
In the South Bay, Democratic incumbents Laura Richardson and Janice Hahn were also forced to duke it out over the same district.
Two Los Angeles City Council members, Richard Alarcon and Tony Cardenas, are seeking higher office. Cardenas is running in a newly created, predominately Latino Congressional district in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Alarcon is running for state Assembly, a seat he left to join the City Council in 2007.