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Voter Fatigue? Another Weak Turnout For Calif. Midterms

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Election officials estimate voter turnout in California for this year's general election was on par with past years at less than 60 percent, despite some fiercely competitive races and voter frustration with the status quo.

As of Thursday, preliminary results from the secretary of state's office showed 7.6 million people — or 44.2 percent of registered voters — cast ballots in person or by mail.

That figure will increase as the state's 58 counties continue processing a flood of last-minute absentee and provisional ballots before the Dec. 3 reporting deadline.

More than 1 million vote-by-mail ballots remained uncounted statewide, said Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County clerk and head of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

An additional 1.5 million votes would increase California's overall turnout to 52.6 percent of registered voters. Turnout was 56 percent in the last gubernatorial election, when Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger was re-elected in 2006.

Tom Hansford, an associated professor of political science at the University of California, Merced, said he wasn't surprised by the relatively weak estimates, despite high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate and perceived voter frustration with Sacramento and Washington.

"Does disaffection drive vote choice? Absolutely. But it's not so clear that it affects the decision to vote in the first place," he said.

Numerous counties said they were planning to work through the weekend to sort through outstanding absentee ballots that numbered above 100,000 in some places.

"We'll keep forging ahead and get through it. None of us are taking any time off right now," Pellerin said.

Pellerin said she did not yet know what percentage of Santa Cruz County voters cast mail-in ballots, but that it almost certainly would end up being higher than the percentage who voted in person.

That prediction was echoed by county registrars throughout the state.

"The lower the turnout, the higher the percent of vote-by-mail," said Steve Weir, Contra Costa County registrar and former head of the statewide clerks association.

Weir estimated his county's overall turnout would be about 62 percent, and that 58 percent of those who voted did so by mail.

That included 25,000 voters who waited until Election Day to deliver their ballots, he said.

The California Association of Clerks and Election Officials hoped to post initial estimates of the state's total vote-by-mail turnout by the end of the week, Pellerin said.

The secretary of state's office does not provide such estimates, said spokeswoman Shannan Velayas. Final turnout numbers will be reported when the office certifies the election results, which must take place by Dec. 10, she said.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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