Fresno County and other parts of the central San Joaquin Valley have long recorded low voter turnout. That’s especially true when it comes to a primary election like the one happening Tuesday.
In 2016, about 40 percent of registered voters cast their votes in the presidential primary — a substantial increase from the 29 percent who voted in the June 2012 presidential primary.
In the June 2014 primary, which did not include a presidential vote, only 26 percent of registered voters went to the polls.
Tuesday's statewide primary doesn’t have the allure of a presidential vote but it does include some hot-ticket items that could attract more voters than usual.
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“June 2018 Gubernatorial primary – new governor to be elected, hot local city council and congressional races – I’m encouraging a 50 percent turnout,” Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said. “But another analysis might yield a different percentage.”
There are 27 candidates for governor now that Gov. Jerry Brown is termed out. That includes frontrunners Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and San Diego Republican John Cox, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump.
The field includes two Democrats who are known in the Valley: former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who made multiple stops in Fresno on the campaign trail, receiving the endorsement of City Council President Esmeralda Soria; and Woodlake native Amanda Renteria, the former top staffer for Hillary Clinton who entered the race late.
The top two candidates regardless of political party advance to the November general election.
For some, the ballot includes Rep. Devin Nunes’ long-held spot in the 22nd Congressional District. The Republican, who has faced criticism in his role as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is going up against five candidates including intense competition from Democrat Andrew Janz, a prosecutor with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office. Just as in the governor's race, the top two candidates regardless of political party advance to November.
“I think the Janz/Nunes race is driving turnout,” said Marianne Kast, president of the Fresno County League of Women Voters. “A lot of times you'll open a whole ballot and it’ll be just one or two races voted, and my sense is this is that race. There are too many choices for governor and senator to figure out. It can be overwhelming for voters.”
More potential voters
Following national trends after Trump's election, there's an increase in voter registration that could also have an impact on the turnout. More than 440,000 people were registered to vote in Fresno as of May 21, compared to about 408,000 registered voters in May 2016.
There are also more calls for people of color to get to the polls. Mi Familia Vota, a nonprofit focusing on Latino rights, points to an increase in people who have applied for citizenship following Trump's election.
“Before 2017, we would see maybe 600 people at naturalization ceremonies every month in Fresno. Now, we’re seeing 800-1,000. A lot of those people are looking to use their right to vote,” said Samuel Molina, the organization's state director. “We register voters every year and we’ve definitely seen an uptick of people wanting to take advantage of the election.”
Programs like the Voters Choice Act are being rolled out for the first time, including in Madera County — one of five counties in the state to opt in the program, which aims to increase voter participation.
Through the program, every voter is mailed a ballot; early voting lasts longer and voters can cast a ballot at any vote center in their county.
“We’ve had a really low turnout of people that went to the polls,” said Madera County Clerk Rebecca Martinez. “The Act offers more opportunities for people to vote by making it easier.”
Lisa Bryant, a political science professor at Fresno State, predicts there could be a bigger turnout locally, but it won't be significant.
"I don't think the turnout will be as high as some people hope it will be, but this contentious environment that we’re in is going to drive some people to the polls," she said. "November is a long way away in terms of politics. A lot can happen."
When: Tuesday, June 5 (check with your county for early voting options)
Polls open: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Fresno County:fresnovote.com, 559-600-8683 (downtown Fresno main office open Saturday, June 2, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.)
Kings County:countyofkings.com/elections, 559-852-4401
Madera County: votemadera.com, 800-435-0509
Mariposa County: mariposacounty.org/elections, 209-966-2007
Merced County:mercedelections.org, 800-561-0169
Tulare County:tularecoelections.org, 559-624-7300