Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sometimes Voters Just Sit a Race Out

Posted By on Sat, Dec 3, 2016 at 9:24 AM

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While the latest round of Humboldt County election results didn't change any outcomes, the numbers do reveal some interesting tidbits about the races voters chose to sit out.

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders said in an email to the Journal on Friday that there are “approximately 5,000 ballots left to scan, which includes the provisional ballots.”

The final tally is slated to be certified Tuesday before being sent to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors for approval on Dec. 13.

Voter turnout dipped a bit from 2012 with 67.22 percent of registered Humboldt County residents casting their ballots compared to 72.49 percent four years earlier despite one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent history.

Granted, this November’s ballot did pack a heavy punch for those who opted to weigh in on the state’s 17 ballot measures, including such hot-button topics as the death penalty and marijuana legalization, on top of a bevy of local options from city council races to school bonds to tax measures.

However, not all campaign contests are apparently considered equal in voters’ eyes, with several local council races — some contested and some not — bearing the brunt of what’s known as “under votes.”

And, there are a number of reasons why that might happen.

“An under vote occurs when a voter votes for fewer candidates than there are vacancies, or chooses not to vote in a contest,” Sanders said. “Sometimes under votes are used as part of a strategy to strengthen the chances of a particular candidate. Other reasons for an under vote might be that the voter didn’t feel informed about the candidates or contest, or they were dissatisfied with their choices.”

While most under voting occurred in races in which candidates were running unopposed for council seats, which was true in Ferndale, Fortuna and Trinidad as well as Eureka’s Ward 2 seat, there were still some double digit sit outs with challengers at hand.

The five-way Arcata City Council race for three seats saw 8,451 under votes, or 35.56 percent. That’s up from 18.81 percent in a two candidate race for a two-year seat and a 25.41 percent under vote in another five-person race for two four-year seats in 2014.

Back in 2012, the numbers were higher with the under votes at 47.27 percent, but the race had three candidates for three council seats.

Blue Lake, which went the write-in route after originally only receiving one qualified candidate for three open seats, had an under vote rate of 53.60 percent, which could be attributed in part to the fact that three of the four candidates didn’t appear on the ballot.

The under vote rate there was 31.92 percent in 2014, when three candidates ran for two seats, and 46.07 percent in 2012 with three candidates up for three seats.

College of the Redwoods political science professor Ryan Emenaker said part of the reason for the opt-out choices made in Arcata could be the student vote, which might be more focused on national rather than local elections.

Other reasons could include not voting in certain races “out of a sense of duty or lack of knowledge.”
“If someone has the option to vote for school board but they have no children in that local school district and they have never attended the local schools, they may choose not to vote in that race so that their vote does not dilute the votes of those who really care about the outcome,” Emenaker said in an email.

Where voters didn’t skimp on making their voices heard was the presidential race, with only 834 of the 55,771 Humboldt voters who cast ballots — or 1.5 percent — sitting that round out. Another was the question of whether to legalize recreational marijuana, which saw 1,228 voters sit on the sidelines. That didn’t surprise Emenaker.

“I also suspect that Prop. 64 on marijuana brought people out to the polls, but people that came to vote on that one issue may not have cared about (or known much about) other items on the ballot,” he wrote. “I remember hearing reports from poll workers in 2010, when California last voted on marijuana legalization, that many voters indicated to the poll workers that they only came to vote on legalization, and that they didn't realize there were other items (or did not care that there were other items) on the ballot.”

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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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