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Bay Area voter turnout trending low for March 5 primary

Bay Area voter turnout for the March 5 primary election is hovering at about 35%, a number that could grow slightly when the total count is finalized on April 4.

The turnout percentage is about the same for the nine-county region as it is when including numbers from Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Joaquin counties, according to data released Thursday by the California Secretary of State’s Office.

“Early vote-by-mail was surprisingly low,” said Marin County Registrar Lynda Roberts. “But on Election Day, we received about 45,000 vote-by-mail ballots, from the post office, ballot drop boxes and returns from vote centers.”

“It’s looking like our final turnout will be about 53 percent,” Roberts said.

On Thursday, Marin County was reporting a 46% turnout of registered voters, the highest percentage for the greater Bay Area.

San Francisco was a close second with 45%, which Registrar John Arntz was in line with historical averages for his city/county.

“The March 2024 primary election will likely be near 47 percent, which is within 3 percent of the average for presidential primary elections since 1972,” Arntz said.

In Alameda County, voter turnout was reported at just 25% as of Thursday, the lowest for any county in the region.

“Across the state we have been seeing low turnout, this is a primary election which normally sees a lower turnout than the General Election,” Alameda County elections officials said in an email. “This election tends to be heading to a turnout in the 30 percentile, which is lower than our March 2020 Presidential Primary Election.”

Statewide, voter turnout was clocking in at about 32% as of Thursday morning.

California State University East Bay associate professor of political science Elizabeth Bergman said the low numbers aren’t surprising given the general lack of marquee issues or competitive races.

“At the county level this was not an exciting primary,” Bergman said.

Given the fact that both President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his presumptive Republican challenger Donald Trump walked away with easy primary wins in California, there wasn’t much on the March 5 ballot to excite voters’ interest besides Proposition 1.

The hotly contested Prop. 1 is Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $6.4 billion mental health treatment ballot initiative, which was narrowly leading with 50.2 percent of the vote Thursday.

And while Bergman said turnout for Prop. 1 was impressive given the lackluster nature of the March 5 ballot, it clearly wasn’t enough of a spark to ignite widespread voter turnout.

“It has to do with competitiveness and people are smart about their time,” she said. “They don’t want to waste their time, so they feel like if their vote matters, they’ll turn out.”

Bergman also said that people tend to avoid casting a ballot on issues they don’t understand or for or against candidates with whom they are unfamiliar.

“People are very uncomfortable about voting if they don’t know what to vote on and so they’re looking at the ballot this time and saying I don’t recognize any of this,” she said.

“Infrequent voters are not stupid voters. That’s a mistake that I think a lot of media make,” Bergman said. “They’re rational about their time and their knowledge. They know what their time and their knowledge is. They’re making a rational decision.”

She also noted that demographics play a large role in election participation totals, with low-income voters and voters of color casting ballots less frequently than higher-income voters and white voters.

Source: NBC Bay Area

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