Ho-hum Turnout

Donna Pray drops off absentee ballots for her family at the Elks

Only 42 percent of voters projected to cast their ballots
Gilroy – It was a long, slow day for South County election workers.

For all the attention and hype surrounding Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election, only 42 percent of the state’s 15.8 million registered were projected to cast ballots. That’s greater than turnout for special elections in 1993 and 1979. Add in a substantial number of absentee voters and poll workers found themselves without much to do for 15 hours.

“It’s not dull, but it’s slow,” said County Supervisor Don Gage, who worked the polls at the Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church. “It’s a long day. It is gratifying to see the people who do come in.”

The special election was Gage’s first as a poll worker, but experienced volunteers reported a noticeable drop in voters from the November 2004 election, when in addition to the presidential race, a slew of state and federal races were on the ballot.

This time around, Gilroy residents were choosing three city council members in addition to the eight statewide propositions. After he voted in the morning, council candidate Bob Dillon said he hoped the ballot measures would boost Gilroy turnout, which was just 29 percent when Dillon ran in 2001.

“Historically, off-year election turnout is low,” Dillon said. “Maybe more people will come out to vote on the propositions.”

Morgan Hill has no local races, and volunteers said they noticed a sharp drop-off from the 2004 election.

“There are a lot fewer people,” Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church volunteer Andrea Salvemini said. “Last year, we had lines out the door.”

Turnout at the church was about 32 percent. Anecdotally, turnout throughout the region was running between 30 and 35 percent. About an hour before polls closed, only 203 of about 560 possible voters cast ballots at the Eagle Ridge Golf Club. There were just 228 of a possible 1,119 ballots marked at the Sunrise Fire Station, though that number did not include absentee voters.

In the November 2004 election South County turnout was about 70 percent. In the March 2004 primary, about 43 percent.

“It’s not terrible, but it’s not busy,” precinct captain Scott Valkenaar said. “A little light.”

Those who did vote, like Michael Artmore, a Gilroy resident who voted for the first time In California since moving here from Dallas, said they were inspired by the political clashes that spurred the election.

“I’ve heard a lot about Arnold Schwarzenegger and California is a very political state,” Artmore said. “People have very strong opinions. I’m just joining the bandwagon, trying to make my vote count also.”

Many voters cast their ballots even though they disagreed with the election, which will cost the state in the neighborhood of $52 million.

“I think people should not have to be legislators, we pay people to do that,” Morgan Hill resident Richard Reynolds said. “But I voted because it’s the right thing to do.”

Sandy Stoob, also of Morgan Hill, said she was “furious that they’re trying to legislate through propositions. In general, I don’t think it works.”

But voter Brett Faust said it was a nice change to vote for issues and not candidates.

“It was much easier to discern my position because there weren’t any people on the ballot,” Faust said.

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