My Club

Because California has joined the national movement to hold presidential primaries no later than the beginning of the previous year’s Christmas shopping season, we had two primary votes this election cycle. On SuperDuper Tuesday, we voted for presidential candidates and a slew of ballot measures. Yesterday, we voted on state legislative races, a couple more initiatives, some local officials, and party central committee members. (Not that I know who the members of the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee are, and not that I understand what it is they do. I voted for one yesterday, Wes Van Winkle, because–I know someone who uses this method for betting on horses–I like his name. He didn’t win.)

I felt blasé about the election. I didn’t have any strong feelings about anyone or anything on the ballot. When I finally overcame my inertia to go vote late in the afternoon, the polling place was deserted. The poll workers acted like they hadn’t had much business all day (someone commented that I was the 57th person to vote for the day; they had been open for 10 hours at that point). This is in Berkeley, where people miss no opportunity and spare no effort to express their opinions.

I don’t know the city turnout. But countywide, 24.24 percent of registered voters cast ballots (that includes mail-in/”absentee” ballots). Pretty anemic, but better than the statewide figure, 22.2 percent. In our SuperDuper primary, 57.7 percent of registered voters participated, and 60.1 percent in Alameda County.

That February vote got a lot of attention because of the high turnout. It’s true that it was the highest in a long time (see the California Secretary of State’s table (PDF file) of primary election statistics going back to 1910). But if you go back to the 1980 primary, 63.3 percent of registered voters turned out–perhaps because of the presence on the ballot of Proposition 13, the initiative that slashed property taxes in the state and helped make it much, much harder for counties to raise them. Or maybe not: 1980 itself marked the beginning of a long term trend toward lower primary turnouts in presidential years. The primaries from 1964 through 1976 all recorded turnout from 70.95 to 72.6 percent.

Of course, if you look at yesterday’s statewide participation in terms of percentage of eligible voters, it’s much lower. California has about 23 million people qualified to go to the polls; about 16 million are registered. Yesterday’s turnout was just over 3 million, or a shade over 13 percent. I never thought that by voting I’d be in an exclusive club.

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3 Replies to “My Club”

  1. Not that our turnouts are spectacular, but Oregon has shown that voting by mail does result in greater participation. (Lots of information about Oregon’s vote by mail is here.
    Oh, one little correction: Prop 13 was in 1978. I remember. I was in high school and among the victims of the budget cutting was our school newspaper.

  2. I was in charge (“Inspector”) of one of the polling places at the Northbrae Church on the Alameda; it was a very different experience than it was in Albany in February. Yesterday we voted 110 ballots in the machine. In February it was about 440 (I don’t remember exactly). We had a lot of ‘absentee’ ballots both days, probably in about the same proportion. Heck, because I’m not an absentee voter, and because I was so busy all day and not at my precinct, I didn’t even vote myself, which is a first for me, in I don’t know how many years.

  3. Oh, Pete, I should have remembered that year. I guess it always pays to check. … And now that I have, I note that the turnout in 1978, an “off-year: primary, was 68.88 percent — 5 percentage points higher than it was in the presidential primary two years later. Which, given the generally puny turnouts since, even during the actual elections, seems pretty amazing.

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