Election Marked a Low Point for Voter Turnout

OC Mid-Term Primary Turnout

Mid-term primaries have drawn fewer and fewer voters in recent years. This week’s election was no exception.

With final turnout figures expected to be around 24 percent or less, Orange County voters apparently went to the polls at a lower rate than at any other mid-term primary since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

And it appears to be part of a larger trend, with a notable decline in mid-term primary turnout since 2002. While the numbers are low, the county’s elections chief doesn’t expect them to be the lowest ever for a countywide primary.

Neal Kelley, the county registrar of voters, said turnout in the June 2008 primary was 21.5 percent. That year was unusual, given that the presidential primary was held in February, before the June primary.

While it’s hard to know for sure exactly why turnout has generally declined for mid-term primaries, one factor could be that voter-initiated ballot measures, which often touch on hot-button issues, now take place in November instead of June.

Additionally, it seems there were few issues and candidates that energized large numbers of voters to show up to the polls.

Voter turnout in primaries has declined statewide since 1978, when nearly 73 percent of voters participated.

The June 1994 primary saw Orange County turnout in the low 30-percent range, which officials said was the lowest since 1954.

This year’s primary is on track to have less than 24 percent turnout.

As for the November presidential elections, which generally have the highest turnout, Orange County saw generally flat turnout in the 2000s, before a 5-percent drop in 2012.

At the same time, turnout dropped markedly from 1992’s participation of 79 percent:

On another note, voters’ use of mail-in ballots continues to rise in Orange County, according to Kelley.

“That trend is absolutely certain and I don’t see that abating,” he said, estimating that more than 60 percent of voters will cast ballots by mail.

About 238,000 ballots were reported as counted on Wednesday, with roughly 100,000 ballots remaining.

Most of those remaining ballots were mail ballots submitted either by mail or in person at the polls.

A smaller amount are provisional and election day paper ballots.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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