June 6, 2012 - Big changes didn't draw voters to polls
Paper: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Title: Big changes didn't draw voters to polls - KINGS COUNTY: Valle still in the race to save political career CONGRESS: Costa, Whelan appear headed to November runoff
Date: June 6, 2012
Author: Kurtis Alexander, The Fresno Bee
Sweeping changes to the way California elections are handled apparently were not enough to spark interest in the handful of local and state races on Tuesday's ballot.
The election was marked by unusually quiet polls and low voter turnout, observers said -- perhaps the lowest of any presidential primary, the renowned Field Poll predicted on the eve of the election.
Tulare County elections chief Rita Woodard said she heard a telling comment from one precinct worker: "They needed to take more yarn for their knitting."
Fresno County elections chief Brandi Orth acknowledged Tuesday evening that her initial estimate of a 37% countywide turnout was likely overly optimistic. Statewide, the Field Poll projected turnout below 40%. Final numbers won't be known until all ballots are processed.
The upside was few problems at the polls.
The novelty of a new "top-two" voting system and freshly-drawn legislative districts proved to be a feeble draw. Both changes were heralded by proponents as a way to produce more competitive races and remove the built-in advantage enjoyed by partisan candidates.
But with the Republican nomination for the White House already settled and few other high-profile contests on the ballot, most appeared uninterested in new election procedures and eschewed the polls.
"Usually, you have a jolt at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.," said Joy Sailor, a precinct inspector at the McCaffrey Homes offices voting site in northwest Fresno and a 13-year veteran of working elections. "This election, there wasn't much logjam."
Another reason: mail-in ballots. Susan Conner, chief assistant Madera County clerk recorder, said increasing numbers of voters either chose the option or were forced into it because of mail-only voting.
"We did have a lot of vote by mail ballots dropped off today," Conner said.
Statewide, voters were asked to weigh two ballot measures, the first changing term limits in the Legislature and the second raising the cigarette tax.
Fresno County elections officials reported few hitches with Tuesday's voting outside of a power outage at two Kingsburg polling sites and a broken vote-counting machine at Forkner Elementary School in northwest Fresno. The Kingsburg sites recovered quickly and a new machine was delivered to Forkner.
Orth said U.S. Department of Justice officials were in Fresno County observing the voting process to ensure that Hispanic residents received proper ballots and voting instructions if they asked questions.
But even she didn't know which precincts the federal officials visited.
Orth described the visit as routine, but said the county will follow the federal government's findings from its observations.
Staff writers Marc Benjamin, Eddie Jimenez, Alex Tavlian and Ezra Romero contributed to this report.
Caption: CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE Poll workers, from left, Gaylord Hodge, Ellen Carretero and Ida Mitchell, wait in an empty precinct at the Chandler Airport in the final hour of voting Tuesday. CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE Jim Patterson talks with a supporter Tuesday.
Memo: ELECTION 2012
Section: MAIN NEWS
Record Number: FRS_0416369913
Copyright (c) 2012 The Fresno Bee