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As California's primary looms, so do concerns about possible low voter turnout

As California’s primary approaches on Tuesday, there are serious concerns about turnout as only one-in-ten ballots have so far been returned. 

At one vote drop-off location in Santa Clara, dozens of volunteers were working Saturday — but there weren’t many voters. 

“The early voting days typically are slow,” said vote center lead Margaret Heaman. “This year feels maybe a little slower.”

NBC Bay Area went through the numbers and they’re stark. In Alameda County, nearly 950,000 ballots were sent out. As of Thursday, fewer than 86,000 had been returned. 

San Francisco County sent out 507,000 ballots, but only 55,000 of those have been cast. 

“Santa Clara County is about 12% so far,” Heaman said. “They tell me that that’s higher than the state average.”

The numbers are surprisingly similar across most Bay Area counties. 

The Bay Area does have a reputation for high voter turnout, but this primary comes three months earlier than in previous years. Many voters have also just received their ballots and voter pamphlets in the past week or two. 

“I just got a really thick booklet. I have to go through that,” said Vivian, who did not provide a last name. “A lot of stuff this year for sure.”

It’s a lot of propositions to consider and voters want to make sure they’re voting they way they intend on the carefully-worded measures. 

It’s not a surprise to one of the Bay Area’s noted political experts. 

“I think voters get exhausted with constantly having to educate themselves on propositions, the ongoing process, and then having to educate themselves on whether a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote means ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ actually,” said University of San Francisco Political Science Department Chair James Taylor. 

Taylor said the early timing of the primary this year, the first week of March instead of June, may have caught a lot of voters by surprise. 

Early voting opened on Feb 6, and Taylor expects mail-in ballots are probably stacking up at post offices over the weekend. 

“You’re probably going to see a lot of people have probably mailed in their ballots Thursday or Friday to get them in on-time for next week,” Taylor said. “So I think it’s just a lot of procrastination.”

The recent wild weather may have also led to the lower return, Taylor said. But by the time all of the ballots are counted after Tuesday, he doesn’t think the final numbers will be significantly lower than most primaries. 

That means ballot drop-off locations are likely going to be busy over the next few days, along with in-person voting, as people scramble to get their votes in and counted.

Source: NBC Bay Area

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