Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Low turnout expected for state primary vote

California's top county election chief predicts voters today will play political limbo as in "How low can you go?"

Contra Costa Registrar of Voters and California Association of Clerks and Election Officials President Steve Weir says turnout will be 31 percent statewide following an anemic decade of poor primary results.

Statewide turnout in previous nonpresidential primary elections has ranged from 35 percent in 1994, to 42 percent in 1998 to 34 percent in both 2002 and 2006. Weir concedes he is sailing in uncharted waters. It could go even lower, he said.

It's a skimpy ballot stripped for the first time since 1940 of the presidential election — California moved its presidential primary to February MoreFind your polling place:Contra Costa | Alameda | SolanoElection 2008: News, updates, endorsements and informationBlog: Inside Politics with Lisa VorderbrueggenBlog: Political Blotter with Josh RichmanMobile alerts: Get election updates delivered to your mobile device— with only a handful of locally contested seats and two humdrum statewide eminent domain propositions.

"One could easily argue that the turnout will be in the high 20s," Weir said.

Contra Costa residents, who typically turn out in greater numbers than other parts of California, may do better, Weir said.

Based on the return rate of mail ballots, the county was on track for a 38 percent turnout, Weir said.

Alameda County Registrar Dave Macdonald hopes he'll see at least 35 percent "but I wish I knew," he said. "This is a very strange election cycle."

His office is fielding calls from voters who apparently didn't pick up on the Feb. 5 presidential primary, in which a record number of Californians voted.

"We're Advertisementgetting a lot of calls from people asking where the presidential candidates are listed on their ballots and, of course, they aren't on the ballot because we already voted in February," Macdonald said. "But we have received about a third of the mail-in ballots back already, which is pretty darned good."

Once the votes have been counted, it's likely that turnout rates will vary widely from community to community based on local interest.

The Republican congressional primary smackdown between former Congressman Doug Ose and state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, for retiring Roseville Rep. John Doolittle's seat is expected to bring out voters.

San Diego and Sacramento have high-profile mayor's races. And state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, is locked in a bare-knuckles primary with former Assemblyman Joe Nation and Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

In the East Bay, a hotly contested fight over outgoing Sen. Don Perata's seat between Assemblywoman Loni Hancock and former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan could drive residents to vote.

Two four-way races in the primaries for the state Assembly posts held by outgoing Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, and Hancock, D-Berkeley, are generating buzz and campaign volunteers.

Contra Costa has two fierce races for supervisor that have generated numerous nasty mailers and tens of thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures from oil refineries, businesses, homebuilders, real estate agents and others with an interest in the outcome.

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