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Primary Numbers

A Closer Look at the Tote Board from the First Round of the 2010 State Elections


In sifting the detritus of last Tuesday’s election, it quickly becomes clear that the biggest factor in the primary was the non-voter — except for money, of course. Some fun with numbers findings:

TURNOUT: The pre-election media hype all focused on the alleged fury of outraged voters who were purportedly poised to turn the political world upside down. When the deal went down, however, anger morphed into apathy, and watching the Lakers proved a much bigger draw than going to the polls.

Capitol Letters

Across the state last Tuesday night, overall turnout was just 28 percent of those registered to vote — about 4.6 million people. Because only about 70 percent of adults who are eligible to vote even bother to register, however, this means that barely 20 percent of Californians who could have voted did so, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

As a practical matter, to cite one example, these numbers resulted in Proposition 14 (which radically transforms the elections system in California by making future primaries non-partisan contests) being passed by less than 10 percent of those eligible to vote statewide. And the historic nomination of Meg Whitman as the first woman ever chosen as the Republican candidate for governor was accomplished with the robust support of 7 percent of registered voters (5 percent of those eligible), while Democratic nominee Jerry Brown, running unopposed, captured slightly less than 10 percent of registered voters and 7 percent of eligibles.

Locally, the 78,674 good citizens of Santa Barbara County who voted far exceeded state participation rates, with 41 percent of those registered going to the polls or casting mail-in ballots, representing 28 percent of those who were eligible.

LET’S GO, LAKERS: Turnout in Los Angeles, the most populous county in California, sagged well below the statewide average: Less than one million registered Angelenos — about 21 percent — cast a ballot; Game 3 of the Laker-Celtics championship series on election night, by contrast, drew several million viewers in L.A. — part of the 16 million nationally who made it the highest rated NBA game in years.

WHAT MONEY CAN, AND CAN’T, BUY: The biggest corporate loser of the night was Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the giant utility that sponsored Proposition 16, a measure intended to obstruct local jurisdictions in contracting for electricity with public power companies that compete, and often undercut the rates of, PG&E. The company spent $46 million in a failed effort to pass their initiative — about $25 a vote — while a grassroots group of public power activists spent a grand total of $100,000 to defeat it — about 4 cents a vote. Of course, PG&E — popularly known in Northern California as Pacific Greed & Extortion Co. — was spending their ratepayer’s money, so no biggie to them.

Another business interest to get whacked was Mercury Insurance Co., which went to the wallet for about $16 million in a bid to pass Proposition 17, which would have changed consumer-friendly rules governing auto insurance established by Proposition 103 in 1988 — a cost of $7.50 a vote, compared to the coalition of consumer groups that beat it, who spent 50 cents per vote.

FIRST I LOOK AT THE PURSE: Whitman spent more than $80 million in the primary, of which more than $71 million was her own money. This means that her nomination cost her about $65 per vote. Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, Whitman’s vanquished mega-bucks rival, in any other year would have been viewed as a big spender as he put nearly $25 million of his own fortune into his losing primary, or $48 a vote, to finish a distant second. On the Democratic side, Brown spent less than 1 percent of what eMeg forked out, at the bargain price of 20 cents a vote.

For comparison’s sake, blogger Greg Lucas noted at CaliforniasCapitol.com, the money that the two Republicans spent on their campaigns could have paid the annual salaries of about 1,750 teachers, who make an average of $60,000 and who are threatened with layoffs in the current round of education cutbacks. Put another way, the cash could pay for proposed cuts in prescription drug benefits and cough and cold medicines for California’s aged, blind, and disabled, as well as reductions in the number of doctor visits they’re allowed per year — with enough money left over to fully fund state habitat conservation and restoration programs.

At press time, Whitman’s campaign announced she has just put another $20 million of her personal fortune into her campaign for governor. Ain’t Democracy grand?

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