Local Election

A numbers game: Will Fresno County reach a 20-year high for midterm election turnout?

Lengthly process of counting of Fresno County ballots continues

Brandi Orth, Fresno County Clerk, explains what comes next in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, including the lengthy processing of ballots from the Fresno County’s 419 voting precincts, including mail-in ballots.
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Brandi Orth, Fresno County Clerk, explains what comes next in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, including the lengthy processing of ballots from the Fresno County’s 419 voting precincts, including mail-in ballots.

Fresno County and the rest of the central San Joaquin Valley saw markedly lower voter turnout in Tuesday’s midterm election than for the 2016 presidential election.

That’s no surprise – interest typically is lower across the board for such off-year elections.

But by the time tens of thousands of late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots are counted and the election certified, Fresno County’s turnout will have far exceeded what it was in the 2014 midterms and rival the best turnout for an off-year election in 20 years.

As of early Wednesday morning, the county election staff had counted 154,500 ballots that were either cast at polling places across the county or vote-by-mail ballots received before Election Day.

But Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth estimated there are another 100,000 ballots still to be tallied – a combination of about 76,000 late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots as well as about 24,000 provisional ballots.

“I think we’re going to pass the 50 percent turnout, which for a midterm general election breaks, I think, the 2014 one,” Orth said.

Brandi Orth, Fresno County Clerk, explains what comes next in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, including the lengthy processing of ballots from the Fresno County’s 419 voting precincts, including mail-in ballots.

That wouldn’t necessarily be hard to do. In the November 2014 midterm, total turnout was 39.2 percent — and that was after all of the vote-by-mail and provisional ballots had been accounted for.

If all 100,000 or so ballots for this election are validated, it would bolster this year’s turnout to about 55.9 percent.

In the 2016 presidential election, by contrast, Fresno County’s turnout was more than 291,000, including about 111,000 provisional and late absentee ballots that boosted overall turnout to about 66.7 percent.

But despite growth in the number of registered voters and higher turnout than other recent midterms, there are more than 201,000 people who were registered to vote in this election, but did not.

That’s in addition to about 140,000 more people who are eligible to vote but are not even registered.

In neighboring Madera County, Justin White, chief assistant county clerk-recorder, said his office has somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 ballots left to process, in addition to about 28,000 votes that have already been counted.

“Our response for November 2018 is going to be one of the highest midterm turnouts we have had in a very long time, perhaps record-setting,” White said Wednesday.

Party advantages – or not?

In Fresno County, Democrats have held a registration advantage since 2010. But voting patterns have not necessarily followed suit.

In this week’s election, for example, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 21,000. But in the partisan contest for governor, Republican John Cox outpolled Democrat Gavin Newsom by more than 11 percentage points as of Tuesday night.

That margin could change depending on how all those absentee and provisional ballots stack up. But estimates by PoliticalDataInc. suggest that while more vote-by-mail ballots were sent to Democrats in advance of the election, Republicans were returning their ballots to the elections office at a higher rate.

Statewide, however, Newsom was a clear winner.

One reason for the divergence between Democrats’ numeric advantage over Republicans in Fresno County and the party’s performance here could be the significant growth in the number of voters who have declared no party preference – the third largest bloc in the county.

Ten years ago, those voters numbered about 43,000. By this election, that ballooned to almost 109,000 – a number that creates a huge wild card for anyone seeking to handicap elections based on party registration.

Details on numbers of Democratic, Republican and other parties’ voters, as well as breakdowns by age and other demographics, won’t become available until after the election results are certified, which may not happen until early December.

When those numbers come out, however, they will be closely scrutinized by party insiders as they strategize for future registration and turnout efforts.

Bee reporter Barbara Anderson contributed to this report. Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319; Twitter: @TimSheehanNews.
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