Early voting numbers indicate tepid turnout in county | TheUnion.com

Early voting numbers indicate tepid turnout in county

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the total number of Nevada County voters was tabulated at 31,275 or 49.7 percent of the 62,921 registered voters, according to the Cumulative Report published by the Nevada County Elections Office Wednesday morning.

Assistant Clerk Recorder Gail Smith said the number is not necessarily indicative of a low voter turnout as there are about 18,500 unprocessed ballots at the elections office as of Wednesday evening.

However, if all the ballots are processed as legitimate, it would mean that 49,770 voters participated in the general election, meaning 79 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

For comparison’ sake, in the 2008 general election, 88 percent of registered voters participated. In 2004, 83 percent participated, and 2000 witnessed an 80 percent registered voter turnout rate.

George Mason University’s Michael McDonald told the Associated Press that he put the 2012 turnout rate at 60 percent of eligible voters, but it is important to note that the Nevada County rates listed above are arrived at by dividing the number of those who voted by those who are registered.

If divided by eligible voters, the preliminary voter turnout rate for Nevada County in the 2012 general election is about 65 percent.

Tabulation protocol

At 5 p.m. Thursday, the elections office is required to provide an estimate for remaining votes to be counted to the California Secretary of State, which include provisional ballots, vote-by-mail ballots that were not processed prior to Election Day and damaged ballots, Smith said.

The breakdown provided by Smith shows that 846 damaged ballots, 1,899 provisional ballots and 15,750 vote-by-mail ballots are yet to be processed.

“It seems to me that more people dropped off ballots on Election Day than in previous years,” Smith said.

The estimate is preliminary as California’s county elections officials have 31 days to ensure every eligible ballot is counted accurately, according to a news release issued by the California Secretary of State. Election officials throughout the state have until Dec. 4 to finish processing ballots.

“California has more registered voters than any other state in the nation,” said Secretary of State Debra Bowen, California’s chief elections official. “It’s understandable some people want election returns immediately, but it’s more important than ever to get results right rather than get results fast. Voting by mail has increased significantly in recent years, and with many people returning vote-by-mail ballots on Election Day, county elections officials need the full month to finish their important work.”

In processing vote-by-mail ballots, elections officials must confirm each voter’s registration status, verify each voter’s signature on the vote-by-mail envelope and ensure each person did not vote elsewhere in the same election.

Other ballots that are processed after Election Day include provisional ballots (processed similar to vote-by-mail ballots) and ballots that are damaged or cannot be machine-read and must be remade by elections officials.

Incident-free election

In the weeks and days leading up to Election Day, Smith said she was as concerned as she ever had been about the possibility of voter intimidation.

Nationwide, many citizen-based movements to guard against potential instances of voter fraud cropped up in advance of the general election. Locally, the Nevada County Tea Party Patriots mobilized volunteers to act as observers at various polling places throughout the county.

Nancy Garcia, president of the local political group, emphasized the effort was not a veiled attack on the Nevada County Elections Office, which has been a target of right-wing advocates in the past, but she instead wanted to ensure the vote proceeded legally.

On Tuesday, Smith said there was a minor reported incident at one of the polling places where an observer got too close to the voting roster.

“There was nothing major,” said Smith, who had prepared law enforcement in advance of Election Day to respond to any disruptions that occurred throughout the day.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

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