The state's latest voter-registration report bestows a dubious distinction on three of the central San Joaquin Valley's four counties.
They are among the five statewide with the lowest percentage of eligible voters who have registered to cast ballots. It means not only are they not voting -- they aren't even bothering to register to vote.
It's long been a problem in the Valley, especially in Tulare County, which, time and again, has been either worst or second-worst in the state.
In the most recent statistics compiled by the Secretary of State's Office, Madera County finished worse than Tulare, with fewer than half of eligible voters registered.
The drop to below 50% is almost unheard of among the state's 58 counties.
Fresno County is consistently around -- but almost always just below -- the state average, which, for the past 12 years, has hovered around 70%. Kings is fifth-worst at 60%.
Election officials and political experts say that qualified voters who don't even bother to register strike at the very heart of democracy.
Even more ominous for the Valley is that the lack of engagement hurts the region when it competes with other parts of the state for political influence -- both in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C.
"It's the squeaky-wheel theory," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a veteran political analyst at the University of Southern California. "Legislators will be less likely to put you at the top of their 'to do' list.
"That's just a part of politics."
A federal grant, for instance, may go elsewhere in the state, where civic engagement is higher. Or a high-ranking legislator with statewide political ambitions might push funding to parts of the state that can help further his political ambitions.
"If you're not going to be part of the equation, why bother?" Jeffe said, referring to the possible thinking of politicians. "It's doubly true when we're strapped for cash."
Shrinking budgets hurt
For many, the question is why the problem persists in the Valley.
Going back a dozen years, the region's counties were consistently among the 10 lowest in terms of percentage of eligible voters who have registered to vote.
California's estimates of eligible voters are based on U.S. Census data adjusted by information from the state finance and correction departments.
Bill Jones, a Fresno Republican and a former Secretary of State, said the state doesn't have the money anymore to drive registration efforts.
"There needs to be a constant effort, and usually it's the political parties who are aggressive in that arena -- trying to increase their registration wherever they can get it," he said.
That usually means paying people to register voters. But with the parties themselves scratching for cash, even they are struggling to fund voter-registration drives.
David Schecter, a political science professor at California State University, Fresno, said another factor is lower union membership in the region. Unions drive registration.
Schecter also suspects that demographics play a role. Many unregistered Valley voters, he said, are likely younger, don't have school-aged children and don't own real estate. These are all things that lead residents to engage in the political system, he said. He also said unregistered voters are probably less affluent.
Other factors, he said, are apathy and poor candidates. Some people simply don't think their vote counts, he said. That problem is exacerbated if the candidates seeking office don't connect with voters.