Highest turnout in past 5 gubernatorial votes

The results are now certified, and California’s Nov. 2 election saw the greatest voter turnout – 59.6 percent of the state’s registered voters – in the past five gubernatorial votes, Secretary of State Debra Bowen reported this evening.

“I applaud the work of each county elections official and the more than 100,000 elections workers and volunteers who helped to make voting as easy as possible for every eligible Californian,” Bowen said in a news release.

Looking back, 56.2 percent of registered voters participated in the 2006 gubernatorial election; voter turnout for the 2002 gubernatorial election was 50.6 percent; and 57.6 percent of registered voters turned out in 1998. So last month’s was the highest gubernatorial election turnout since 60.5 percent of voters cast ballots when Republican Gov. Pete Wilson topped Democrat State Treasurer Kathleen Brown in 1994.

Was it Meg Whitman’s deep pockets, either directly or in backlash, that accounted for this surge to the polls? Was it the question of marijuana legalization? Was it part of the national political furor? All of those things, or none? Have at it, commenters.

Ballots cast by mail accounted for 48.4 percent of the votes cast in last month’s election; that’s up from 41.6 percent in 2006. The counties with the highest vote-by-mail voters as a percentage of total turnout were Mendocino (79.4 percent), Nevada (73.9 percent) and El Dorado (70.5 percent), though all voters in Alpine and Sierra counties cast ballots by mail.

“Vote-by-mail voting has steadily increased in popularity over the last 32 years since the law was changed to allow any registered voter to vote by mail,” Bowen said.

Overall, the counties with the highest turnout of registered voters were Sierra (81.9 percent), Nevada (80.8 percent) and Amador (77.6 percent), while turnout was the lowest in Imperial (49.8 percent), Merced (50.9 percent) and Fresno (52.2 percent) counties.

A new total number of gubernatorial ballots cast means a new threshold to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot: For the next four years, proponents will have to gather signatures from at least 504,775 registered voters – five percent of the total votes cast for governor last month – in order to put their measures to a vote. Proponents for a constitutional amendment will need 807,639 signatures, or eight percent of last month’s gubernatorial votes.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W

    I suspect it was heavy Latino turnout, motivated both by Nannygate (“I don’t know you, and you don’t know me”) and by Kamala’s effort in LA. The unions also were probably a factor. Do we know how this year’s Latino turnout compares with those previous gubernatorial years? I would have thought that a heavy turnout would indicate strong GOP participation, motivated by Meg’s megaspending and by frothing at the mouth to get rid of Boxer. Apparently not.

  • ralph hoffmann

    Thanks for the applause, Debra. Josh, from what I saw, it was a combination of all 3 of your factors that led to the high turnout, and CA going opposite from the rest of the USA.

  • steveweir

    Of the 15 largest counties, Santa Clara edged out Contra Costa (67.1% to 66.1%) for top turn out. Contra Costa’s vote by mail was 56.4% of our total vote cast. While I don’t know Santa Clara’s final vote by mail figure, it is the highest in the state for any large county. (Santa Clara has an aggressive program to promote permanent vote by mail voting.)

    The SOS’ report on vote-by-mail does not include All Mail precincts as they are reported as precinct ballots. If those ballots, which are truly vote by mail ballots, are factored into the turn out stats, I think the statewide numbers would be close to 50%.

    While I doubt that California will soon go the the Oregon Statewide all mail option, and I doubt that California will soon go to the Washington State model (local county option for all mail balloting), it is evident that vote by mail will continue to grow. LA, which has the lowest percentage of its voters voting by mail, is beginning to see moderate increases in vote by mail.

    At some point, California will reach some “balance” where a majority of voters will cast ballots by mail and a minority will vote at the polls. There are issues that the California Legislature should address to deal with this trend towards vote by mail. (I see the benefits and the pitfalls for both precinct and for vote by mail voting.) Both would benefit from a comprehensive review as both have become almost too complicated to administer.

    Despite a trend in Contra Costa since 1996 towards fewer rejected vote by mail ballots, we witnessed a spike in June and again in November for ballots being rejected for no signature match and for ballots arriving after election day. So, even with an education program over the past 12 years, with notices in the ballot package, and with newspaper advertising, our rejection rate went up from 0.70% in November 2008 to 1.74% in November 2010. We’re doing a post election analysis and if we can determine a pattern, we’ll try to address it via education.

    Just from my own observations, it appears that some of the spike in the no signature match category belongs to those in the 18 to 35 age range.

    Conventional wisdom is that it is the older population that has drastic changes in their signature over time. We find that this is not the case. When we see a signature beginning to change, a signature where shaking may alter that signature, we strive to accept that signature and we send out another voter registration card to capture that changing signature.

  • John W

    Steve Weir,

    Assuming VBM keeps growing, perhaps we need some means of verification other than signatures, although I’m not sure what that would be.

    When you say the no match spike belongs to the 18-35 crowd, what are we talking about? Signatures obviously belonging to someone other than the person registered, attempted forgery, sloppiness or what?

    Although I’m 60ish and a member of the quivering hand club, my signature seems to gone through it’s most drastic change in my mid-twenties. From the juvenile cursive on my SS card at 14 and still with me when I graduated from college to a completely different, grotesque chicken-scratch by the time I got out of the Army a couple of years later. No, it wasn’t PTSD. I was as far from ‘Nam as you could possibly get.

  • steve weir

    I watched most of the challenges where signatures did not match the voters signature on their voter registration card. When there was a no match, we would look to see the age of the voter. This is not scientific, just my impression. As part of my post election analysis, we’ll look at some factors to see if we can make a generalization and perhaps, design an education program. However, I have no doubt that some people sign others’ vote by mail envelope and those rejections are the way the system is supposed to operate.

  • ralph hoffmann

    I got my paycheck today; $80 Salary for Clerking 16 hrs. including travel, and $20 for a 2 hour training course. (I believe it’s exempt from income tax.) I recommend this job for anyone who wants to work and observe the main right of citizenship.

  • steve weir

    Ralph, we don’t have to issue a 1099 if the yearly reimbursement is less than $1,000. It is considered a stipend.

    We are only as strong as the citizens who step up to perform this 16 hour function. Thanks for your service. (The number approaches 20 if you do the training.)

    There are observers who are complaining about poll workers not checking third party delivery of vote by mail ballots. We had just under 100 vote by mail ballots delivered to each poll site. In addition, we had over 350 voters per precinct. These numbers tell me that our poll workers were busy.

    (Ralph, please don’t do the hourly rate calculation. If one does so, and calculates travel time, you are working for sub-minimum wage. I know that that is not the motivation in most cases.)

  • John W

    Ralph Hoffman, don’t spend it all at once! Kudos to you and the others who sign up for this duty.

  • Common Tater

    Wow, what a turnout. The unions must have really been panicked. They were sure that the evil Republicans would take some of their money. Now it looks like the evil dems will do it instead. (Check the CC Times)

  • Constitution party

    Xenophobe Chelene Nightingale who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor, has some explaining to do. We were sent a shocking photo of her. from “———–.com” she is on the left hand side red hair. (now we know why she hid her past.) Disgusting how she lied to her supporters. a person with this in her past should refrain from seeking any office other than that of a “therapist” she needs some help.

  • Elwood

    Warning Re: #10

    The link leads to graphic pornography.

  • Josh Richman

    Link removed; thanks for the catch, Elwood.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    All politics is linked to graphic pornography.