SANTA CLARA COUNTY residents had a bevy of important, hotly contested elections to vote on, but few bothered to show up to the polls.
Only 24.21 percent of registered voters cast a ballot Tuesday, according to data from the Registrar of Voters updated June 9. In other words, 242,502 residents out of 1,001,791 cast a vote.
As of that afternoon, votes were still being tallied, with 79 percent processed so far. But election experts say this is likely the lowest turnout Santa Clara County has ever seen.
“This may be the lowest in history since they started keeping records in 1880,” retired San Jose State University political science professor Larry Gerston told San José Spotlight. “And the irony is California is about the easiest state to vote in.”
According to data on mail-in ballots from PDI Inc., roughly 33 percent of registered Black voters in Santa Clara County voted in Tuesday’s primary election, in addition to 30 percent of white voters and 23 percent of Asian voters. Latinos had the lowest turnout of any group with 17 percent.
Almost half of registered Santa Clara County voters over the age of 65 cast their ballots, followed by 27 percent of voters between the ages of 50 and 64. Only 17 percent of voters aged 35-49 voted on Tuesday, and only 13 percent of people aged 18-34 cast a ballot.
Michael Borja, a spokesperson for the Registrar of Voters, said as of Wednesday morning there were still 140,000 unprocessed ballots. He previously estimated 35-40 percent turnout based on past elections, but said primary midterm elections don’t usually see high numbers of people heading to the polls.
“There’s not a lot of high-profile candidates in the races,” Borja told San José Spotlight.
Important races, low interest
This year, voters had no shortage of important races to follow: San Jose is getting its first new mayor in eight years and the county its first new sheriff in over two decades; the district attorney faced his first contested reelection since assuming office in 2010; residents in redistricted Santa Clara County District 1 had the opportunity to vote for a new supervisor and half of San Jose’s City Council was at stake.
“This may be the lowest (voter turnout) in history since they started keeping records in 1880. And the irony is California is about the easiest state to vote in.”Larry Gerston, San Jose State University political science professor
Gerston said several factors may have contributed to this outcome. He noted Santa Clara County voters might be fatigued on elections, having already voted in two since 2021. He pointed out it’s also not a presidential election year, which typically drives higher engagement, and there were no significant opponents challenging incumbents for state and federal offices. He suggested the county’s redistricting process may have confused some residents about who or what they were voting on.
Gerston said it was too early to speak to which candidates or measures benefited or suffered because of the low turnout.
“We know in low turnout elections poor people, people of color and young people aren’t as likely to vote as affluent whites,” Gerston said. “In other words, by not turning out, those who might benefit the most from public policies are leaving them in the hands of other people who may not have the same interest in looking out for those who need it.”
Latino voters missing
Data is still being collected, but turnout among Latino residents in Santa Clara County appeared to be very low. Maricela Gutierrez, executive director of SIREN, an immigration rights nonprofit group, told San José Spotlight her organization did grassroots campaigning and canvassing to get out the vote. She was astonished by how few Latino voters showed up to the polls.
“I think there are a lot of folks who are not as interested in the election,” Gutierrez said, noting working class families are struggling with more immediately pressing concerns, such as housing and job displacement.
With an eye on future elections, Borja said the county wants to increase voter engagement, especially among younger people. He said the Registrar of Voters is promoting election information through TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms. His office is also starting a podcast.