Early voting for next month’s election began in San Diego County on May 9 — the day voters could start casting ballots in dozens of races for federal, state, county and local offices and for ballot measures.
Voters across San Diego County have been casting early ballots for more than a week, and it should soon become clear which candidates in several hard-fought contests have the turnout advantage heading into the election on June 7.
As of Tuesday, the county’s registrar of voters had sent out 929,832 mail-in ballots, the most ever issued, with more to be sent out in the coming weeks. Voters have returned 3.1 percent of those ballots.
inewsource has created a searchable map that will be updated daily through the June 7 election to show by precinct where mail-in ballots have been returned in the county.
Campaign operatives in competitive races across the county are watching where early votes are cast because they know which precincts have the voters most likely to be casting ballots for their candidate. They use this data to dispatch volunteers who target absentee voters in those areas who have not yet mailed in their ballots.
The county had 1,467,855 registered voters as of April 30.
More than a week into early voting, the return rate in many of the county’s 1,622 voting precincts was low.
Setting aside vote-by-mail precincts with only a handful of voters, only two precincts (both in Oceanside) had achieved a double-digit return rate. A dozen precincts — mostly around UCSD — had yet to return a single ballot.
In local and county races, a candidate who wins more than 50 percent of votes in the primary is automatically elected to office. In federal races, the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general election in November.
Still, Registrar of Voters Michael Vu was bullish on the return rate in the early going.
“We actually have seen a higher uptick of voters coming in this week — today, alone, there’s been quite a few people coming (to drop off their ballots) as compared with last week,” Vu said on Monday.
When comparing the same type of election (for example, the 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial elections), the share of the vote conducted through mail balloting has grown consistently.
In the June 2012 presidential primary election, 66 percent of all San Diego County votes cast were mail ballots.
Vu suspects that trend will continue with this election.
“I think we’re going to hit 66 (percent) or higher in terms of (the proportion of) all votes cast being mail ballots,” Vu said. “We’ve seen that trend growing and growing each election, and if we looked at even the 2014 general election — I know it was a lower turnout — but even in that election, 65 percent of all votes cast were mail ballots.”
A recent report from the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego reported a surge in voter registration with more than 850,000 new voters statewide signing up between January and March.
Vu pointed to two factors that he predicted would drive up turnout locally.
First, his office has issued a record number of mail ballots, and mail ballot voters tend to vote at higher rates than those voters who do not have the option.
Second, there’s a contested presidential primary on the Democratic side and high levels of voter excitement in races up and down the ballot.
The last day county residents can register to vote is Monday. The last day for registered voters to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot is May 31.
Mail ballot voters who would prefer to drop their ballot off in person may do so at the Registrar of Voters Office at 5600 Overland Ave. in San Diego, and between May 31 and June 7 at 22 other locations throughout the county. If a mail ballot is to count, it must be postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day and received by June 10, three days after the June 7 primary.
Joe Yerardi is an investigative reporter and data specialist at inewsource. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email email@example.com or call (619) 594-5321. By agreement, The Grapevine publishes investigative, in-depth data-driven journalism from independent non-profit inewsource based at San Diego State University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. For more from inewsource, visit http://inewsource.org/about/.