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James Connelly

Low Voter Turnout Cause for Concern

Huge Percentage Haven’t Sent Ballots Yet in City’s First All-Mail Election


With only two weeks to go before the City of Santa Barbara concludes its first ever mail-only election, some campaign strategists are alarmed by low voter turnout thus far. As of Friday afternoon, October 23, city elections officials reported that 8,562 votes had been cast out of a pool of 46,000 registered voters.

Typically, about 50 percent of all mail-in ballots cast are submitted within the first week of their mailing. If that rule were to hold in this year’s all-mail election-in which all ballots are sent to voters by mail, though a handful of ballot drop-off locations will be open on what used to be known as “polling day,” Tuesday, November 3 - then 2009 could emerge as the election where voters stayed away in droves.

Campaign consultants on both sides of the aisle believe that low-turnout elections tend to favor more conservative candidates and that liberal candidates flourish best in higher turnout races. By this reckoning, the turnout trend would favor mayoral candidate Dale Francisco, and council candidates Frank Hotchkiss, Michael Self, and Cathie McCammon.

This year’s race offers voters a choice of five mayoral candidates, 13 City Council candidates, and four ballot initiatives on which to vote yes or no. Campaign strategists have suggested that the low turnout thus far this year could be attributed to voter indecision over which candidates to support, and the unprecedented volume of negative campaign advertising to hit the airwaves and mailboxes of registered voters throughout the city.

Early indications suggested that that the voters casting their ballots already were overwhelmingly older, with the largest age cohort being 65 years and older. In addition, Democrats seemed to be outvoting Republicans by a margin of 3-to-2, and women were outvoting men by the same margin. Many campaigns are scrambling to redouble their get-out-the-vote efforts based on these early indicators.

City officials are hoping to see a large influx of last-minute voters as the November 3 deadline approaches. City Hall switched to an all-mail election in part because of lower costs, but also because election officials said that all-mail elections increased voter participation in all municipalities where they were tried.

The deadline for turning ballots in by hand is 8 p.m., Tuesday November 3. City officials have urged voters who plan to mail their ballots in to do so no later than October 30. Those with questions may call the City of Santa Barbara Clerk’s Office for election information at 564-5309.

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