Election Day wasn’t even here Monday, and already almost 25 percent of central San Joaquin Valley voters had cast a ballot – a number that was growing by the minute as mail ballots continued to arrive and be counted and voters crammed into election offices in the four-county region.
What that means for Election Day is unknown, but the sight test says turnout could end up being pretty high.
California may not matter in the epic and ugly presidential clash between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, with the state’s 55 electoral votes all but certain to go to Clinton, but that apparently isn’t stopping Valley residents from casting ballots.
It feels like Election Day already.
Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth
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“It feels like Election Day already,” Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said as she surveyed the voting stations in her office Monday. All were full, and there was a line. Outside on Kern Street in downtown Fresno there was a traffic jam as cars jockeyed for parking spots.
On Saturday, when her office was open for voting, Orth said 700 people cast ballots.
“That is much larger than we’ve ever done, that I’m aware of,” she said.
Maybe voters are catching on that there are lots of important issues to be decided, from statewide initiatives, such as legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and revamping state prison parole rules, to local issues, such as electing a new Fresno mayor to replace Ashley Swearengin, who is termed out. Or maybe it is the lure of the presidential election. Relevant or not, maybe voters have decided – as they do every four years, since presidential elections mark the highest voter turnout of all – that they want to have their say on Trump or Clinton.
The candidates themselves – at least those in competitive races – are sprinting through the finish line.
In what is expected to be a tight Fresno mayor’s race, Henry Perea spent Monday working the phones and doing two radio shows. He also testified at Fresno City Hall on the statewide cap-and-trade program, in which companies can purchase “credits” to make up for any air pollution they create. On Tuesday, he plans to do more phone work to encourage supporters to vote.
Lee Brand on Monday also testified at the cap-and-trade hearing before holding a small luncheon fundraiser, conducting television interviews and a pair of radio interviews, before finishing off the day working the phones. On Tuesday, he plans to do more phone banking before walking to one final precinct late in the afternoon.
Both sides also have people working to ensure supporters actually cast their ballots.
In the meantime, Faith in Community, a coalition of Fresno religious groups working for social justice, is continuing its effort to get first-time and infrequent voters to cast ballots. As of Saturday, the nonpartisan organization had talked to 10,000 infrequent voters and was on track to reach 12,000 by Tuesday.
As of 1 p.m. Monday, 97,315 Fresno County residents had voted, a turnout of 22.4 percent. In Tulare County, it was 38,648, with a 25.8 percent turnout. In Kings County, 13,946 voted for a 27.2 percent turnout. And in Madera County, 17,335 people had cast ballots, a turnout of 29.8 percent.
In Fresno city, 48,151 residents had voted so far, which is a 20.7 percent turnout. It is also more than 37 percent of voters who requested mail ballots.
The city turnout is 45 percent Democrats and 37 percent Republicans. The Latino turnout of 23 percent is 13 percentage points below the percentage of Latinos registered to vote. The ballots returned so far also strongly favor voters over 55, who have cast more than two-thirds of the Fresno city ballots cast so far.
Turnout by County
(As of 1 p.m. Monday)
Fresno: 22.4 percent
Tulare: 25.8 percent
Kings: 27.2 percent
Madera: 29.8 percent