SACRAMENTO (AP) — California Secretary of State Alex Padilla certified Friday that more than 8.5 million people, or 47.7 percent of registered voters, participated in the June primary, and that Hillary Clinton decisively won the state’s Democratic race.
Turnout just surpassed the 47.5 percent of California’s 1992 primary — the lowest participation rate of the four presidential primaries without an incumbent in at least the last quarter century, according to the secretary of state’s office.
The historically low participation didn’t match record-high voter registration, but it beat forecasts of an even lower turnout. Still, election experts had held out hope that a contested Democratic primary, although winding down, would draw enough new voters in the liberal state to further exceed expectations.
“Considering all the election hype and media coverage and money and the fact that Clinton and Bernie Sanders had rallied across the state, you could have argued that we’d see more,” said Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis. She noted that the number only accounts for about 34 percent of California’s eligible voters.
She and other experts said several factors could have played a role in turnout dropping ahead of election day.
Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination a month before California’s primary. An Associated Press delegate count the day before the primary showed Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination. And nonpartisan voters may have been ill-informed or confused about how to vote in the presidential race.
The report released Friday evening reflected a steady increase in the number of Californians who vote by mail. The 5 million people who cast vote-by-mail ballots, about 59 percent of those who participated, were greater in number than any previous California primary.
The data show few results changed in the weeks of vote-counting following the June 7 election in the nation’s most populous state.
Clinton maintained her 53-to-46 percent win over Sanders in the Democratic primary. Although that margin closed from initial returns showing Clinton leading 56 percent to 43 percent, results have proved false Sanders’ claim that absentee votes would indicate a tight race.
In the Republican presidential primary, Donald Trump won nearly 75 percent of California GOP votes. John Kasich placed second with 11 percent and Ted Cruz took third with 9.5 percent, even though they had already dropped out of the race.
The June primary also set up an intraparty battle between Democrats for the U.S. Senate seat. Attorney General Kamala Harris had a large margin over Democratic rival Rep. Loretta Sanchez, with 40 percent to 19 percent.
California gives county officials a full month to count votes and report election outcomes to the secretary of state. But a unique set of circumstances this year meant as many as 2.5 million ballots couldn’t be counted immediately after the polls closed on election night.
Most of the late ballots arrived close to election day or were likely still in the mail. State law allows vote-by-mail ballots to be counted if they are received within three days of an election.
There were also hundreds of thousands of provisional ballots that require extra verification and take longer to record, many from voters not affiliated with either party who did not realize they had to specifically request a Democratic ballot to participate in the Democratic presidential primary.
“We don’t know if this is the highest number we’ve ever seen in terms of unprocessed ballots, but for a primary this is very unusual,” Romero said.
The respected Field Poll had forecast a turnout of 8 million, or 44.7 percent of the state’s 17.9 million registered voters, before the election.