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Low turnout on eve of primary election could lead to historic lows, expert says

As of Monday morning, only 13% of eligible voters across the state voted.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Election day is Tuesday, but the opportunity to vote has been available for weeks. On the eve of Election day, local elections offices are working hard to get their message out there because many have yet to vote. 

Janna Haynes, Sacramento County spokesperson, says the county is at a 15% return rate right now, similar to where they were at this point in the 2018 primary election.

“We do hope that over the next couple of days, our voter turnout will increase incrementally, because right now, 15% is certainly not the 42% that we experienced in 2018,” Haynes said. 

Cynthia Paes, Registrar of Voters for San Diego County, said turnout in the 2018 primary in San Diego was 40% before universal mail-in ballots. She expects it to be 35% to 40% this time around. 

“We've also done four direct mailers to registered voters describing their voting options for the upcoming election," Paes said. "So we're trying to hit them multiple ways and multiple places.”

Those efforts include anywhere from $600,000 to $750,000 in ad buys for San Diego County, according to Paes. For Sacramento County, Haynes said it's roughly $150,000 going toward billboards, radio, and print advertising for the election. 

However for Sacramento County, Haynes said the 42% they saw in 2018 might not be an impossible bar to reach. 

“I think that we will see a huge surge when the mail-in ballots come in and the drop box ballots come in in the next several days,” she said.

On the statewide level, just 13% have returned their ballot so far. 

"That seems really strikingly low," Political Data Inc. Vice President Paul Mitchell said. He said we could see historic lows, lower than 2014 where turnout was just 25%.

“It's hard to conceive of some mad rush of people, you know, going to Vote Centers, mailing in the late ballots, are showing up to polling places on Election day,” Mitchell said, noting that people have been able to vote for weeks. 

Mitchell said it could mean the person voted into office might not be chosen by a population that actually represents the people they serve. 

“Young people are only 5% turnout right now, where seniors are at 28% turnout," he said. "The state is 40% Latino. In terms of turnout, it's only 15% Latino, so that means that, whoever gets elected, they're coming from an electorate... which looks nothing like the state today. It actually it looks more like the state did in the 1970s."

There is another election in November, the General Election, to pick from the top two candidates that make it through the primary Tuesday. However, that won't be the case for every race. 

For nonpartisan races, like judges or district attorneys, those can be decided Tuesday. If a nonpartisan candidate gets more than 50% of the vote on Election Day then that’s it. They’re the winner.


Political analyst explains why ballot returns have been low so far for Tuesday primary

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