Political Notebook

These local races would be totally different if voters completed their ballots

Elections get underway in Fresno County

Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth says the morning turnout has been on the light side, but is hoping for bigger numbers from the lunch crowd and after work.
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Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth says the morning turnout has been on the light side, but is hoping for bigger numbers from the lunch crowd and after work.

Every vote counts.

It’s as tired a phrase as there is during election season, but it rings as true as ever for the candidates of two local races.

The latest Fresno County election results, which could be certified as early as next week, show that thousands of voters left their ballots blank in two contentious races: Fresno City Council District 3 and Fresno County Auditor-Controller. Had they bubbled something in – anything – the results going into November’s general election could have been completely different.

In District 3, just 48 votes separate second place and fourth place. Tate Hill is currently headed to the runoff with 768 votes, but Daren Miller is just six votes behind him and Craig Scharton is only 42 behind Miller.

The outcome could have been completely different, however, if the 421 people who left that race blank on their ballots chose someone. The empty section votes could have even brought Larry Burrus and Kimberly Tapscott-Munson, currently in fifth and sixth with 604 and 424 votes, respectively, into the fray.

If Fresno County voters had all made a choice in the auditor-controller race, there could have been no need for a November election.

Incumbent Oscar Garcia has 55,301 votes to second-place challenger David Keyes’ 49,131. That equates to 48.3 percent of the vote for Garcia and 43.3 percent for Keyes.

Given that 22,590 people left their ballot blank on that race, either candidate could have secured the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win the office outright.

“The message is every vote counts,” said Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth, who won re-election by a wide margin despite nearly 20,000 blank votes in her race.

“We have a very long ballot with lots of races and candidates, and long ballots can lead to voter fatigue. Most people do some research before voting. If they don’t know a race or candidate, sometimes they just skip it.”

Orth said there is no requirement that every ballot be completely filled out, and she pointed out that people voting – even if they leave a few spaces blank – is always a good thing.

Fresno County sends out a voter guide to each voter, Orth said, as does the state. The county guide also includes a practice ballot, which voters can take into the ballot box with them.

Although many left sections blank, voter turnout appears to have improved quite a bit as a whole. About 31 percent of registered voters turned in ballots in Fresno County, up from about 26 percent in the last non-presidential primary in 2014. Turnout was just below 31 percent in 2010.

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