Despite widespread reporting that voter turnout in last month’s gubernatorial election here in California was at a record low, the final figures counties have reported to the Secretary of State’s office show that it was substantially higher than many had thought. At 56.2%, the turnout was nowhere near the record set in 2002 when Gray Davis ran for re-election and only 50.1% of eligible voters bothered to go to the polls. It just took a long time to count the record number of absentee ballots that arrived at county registrar of voters offices on Election Day or just before then or were dropped off at polling places.
By law, counties had until December 5 to complete their official canvass of election results and until December 12 to report this information to the Secretary of State’s office. The Secretary of State then has until this Saturday, December 16 to certify the results.
The county by county results available on the Secretary of State’s webpage show a wide range of turnout from a low of 43.2% in Imperial County to a high of 76.9% in tiny Trinity County with only 23 precincts.
In Los Angeles, the largest county in the state and a Democratic stronghold, only 51.9% voted, but this was a 7.5% improvement over 2002, when only 44.4% of eligible Angelinos went to the polls. L.A.’s vote accounted for 22.6% of the entire statewide total. Orange County, the second largest county in terms of registration and a Republican stronghold, had even lower turnout at 50.5%. This was just a little over 1% higher than the record low year of 2002.
The highest turnout amongst the ten largest counties was in Contra Costa County (involved in the McNerney-Pombo race) at 63.4%, followed by Alameda County at 61.2% and San Francisco at 60.7%. These counties provided most statewide Democrats with large margins of victory.
More interpretation of these final numbers is needed. But the analyses so far have concluded that the failure of Republicans to vote and not suppressed Democratic participation was the biggest factor in what was a lower turnout than historical averages. It also is a bit of a break in the trends since at least 1962 of decreasing percentages of eligible voters casting a vote. Page three of the Field Poll Report released on Election Day shows the percentages decreasing in Gubernatorial elections. Field has predicted only a 51.5% turnout. The Secretary of State was closer, but also underestimated the vote at 55% in his predictions.
The Field report shows that in 1962, 78.7% of voters voted, increasing to 79.2% in 1966. As a percentage of citizens eligible to vote (including those who are not registered, there has been a similar dramatic decline to the point that last month’s election saw less than 40% participating.