Secretary of State Debra Bowen today released the certified results of the Nov. 6 election, which show that 72 percent of California's 18.2 million registered voters cast ballots, and that for the first time in a statewide general election a slight majority, 51 percent did so by mail. The turnout was somewhat below average for a presidential election, in which the average over the last 100 years has been 79 percent.
Not included in the official report was a volunteer survey Bowen sent county elections officials asking them to report the percentages of voters who registered during the final 34 days preceding the Oct. 22 deadline who actually cast ballots. The results show that, at least among the counties that responded, new registrants were much more likely to participate than those in the voter pool at large. In fact, in most responding counties, the turnout rate of the newly registered topped 80 percent.
Bowen's report breaks down new registrants into two categories -- those who registered online and those who completed traditional, paper registration forms. Following are some representative results:
Orange County: 82 percent of new web-initiated registrants, 81 percent of new paper-based registrants, 67 percent of all registrants countywide.
Corresponding numbers for:
Santa Barbara -- 86 percent, 86 percent, 81 percent.
San Francisco -- 84 percent, 81 percent, 73 percent.
San Luis Obispo -- 89 percent, 86 percent, 62 percent.
Alameda -- 85 percent, 81 percent, 74 percent.
That trend did not hold in every responding county. In Placer and Sonoma counties there was virtually no difference in the turnout of the newly registered and turnout overall.
More analysis will need to be done, both for this election and in future elections, to see if this phenomenon is a consistent, long-term trend. These preliminary numbers, however, suggest that political candidates, consultants and pollsters need to pay extreme attention to voters who signed up in the weeks before Election Day.
As pollster Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll said in post-election remarks at the Sacramento Press Club, these results validate the sentiment of his former boss, legendary California pollster and Field Poll founder Mervin Field. DiCamillo said Field once told him that if someone makes the effort to register just a few weeks before Election Day, it's a pretty solid indicator that they actually intend to vote.
One might argue that such an observation simply reflects a common-sense understanding of human nature.