Less than one in four residents in San Diego County voted in last week’s elections — the lowest rate of any presidential election year in the past three decades.
Turnout may have been unusually low for the presidential primary because that contest had already been set for November. Republican Mitt Romney won enough votes in other states to clinch his party’s nomination and challenge President Barack Obama.
With the presidential race established, most of the biggest election issues last week focused on local candidates for elected office or ballot initiatives. Those heated battles for mayor and City Council, and over city pensions and contracting rules apparently didn’t spur as many to weigh in and vote.
When election officials report turnout, they are typically referring to the number of votes among registered voters. That’s the orange line above. The latest numbers from county election officials showed about 35 percent turnout last week.
The blue line above shows a broader way to calculate election turnout. It compares the number of votes with an estimate of residents who were old enough to vote. Using this method, turnout was about 22 percent last week.
The second method likely represents a slight understatement of turnout among eligible voters because that population includes residents who may be ineligible to vote, such as non-citizens and convicted felons.
Still, the graphic illuminates a few interesting findings:
• Turnout last week was more similar to primary elections in gubernatorial years than presidential years. The average turnout in past primaries was about 40 percent and 49 percent respectively.
• Last week marked the second lowest turnout of any gubernatorial or presidential election since 1980. Turnout was only lower in the 2002 gubernatorial primary, which advanced Republican Bill Simon to challenge Democratic incumbent Gray Davis. Voters reelected Davis that November but then recalled him in 2003.
• Though the same number of voters were registered last week and in 2008, election turnout was much weaker last week. More than twice the number of people voted in the November 2008 presidential election.
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