Newsom recall: 17% of California voters have already returned ballots
With just two weeks remaining until Election Day in the recall attempt of California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom, about a fifth of ballots sent to registered voters have been returned. Statewide data also indicates younger people have been slower to cast their ballots.
More than 3.8 million people, or 17.2% of the state’s 22.3 million registered voters, had returned their ballots as of Sunday, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.
The state did not include statistics broken down by voters’ registered party, but initial indications are that Democrats have returned a slightly higher share of their ballots than Republicans.
An analysis from Political Data Inc. found that 21% of registered Democrats in California have already returned their ballots, compared to 18% of registered Republicans and 14% of independent voters, as of Monday. Democrats, who outnumber Republicans among registered voters by about two to one in California, account for a total of 54% of the electorate that has already returned their ballots.
Another disparity emerges when the ballot returns are broken down by voting age. While a third of voters ages 65 and up have already returned their ballots, just 9% of 18- to-34-year-olds have done so. The younger demographic has tilted heavily blue so far, with Democrats making up 56% of their returned ballots, while 29% are independent or other and 15% are Republican.
“This 18-34 age group, with more than 6 million voters (none of whom was eligible to vote in the 2003 recall) is the largest age grouping on the file. Yet they are the lowest turnout, by a lot,” Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., said in an email. “This segment of young voters, with that 40-point Democratic advantage, is going to clearly be the most critical parts of the electorate for the No side to turnout in these last two weeks.”
The low turnout among young voters so far could be due to a few dynamics.
Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said younger people are more likely to be voting for the first time, which can lead them to prefer casting their ballots in person rather than through the mail.
“The thing that drives me crazy is that while voting is easy in California, it's not simple,” Alexander said. “It varies from county to county, and every ballot looks a little bit different, the envelopes look different. We don't have that consistency across the state that takes some of the guesswork out of the process, so voters have to understand how to fill out their ballot and how to fill out the envelope.”
Turnout among younger voters in California has not been very strong in the past, Alexander said, but she was hopeful that the measures put in place by state officials this year, such as free postage and an online ballot tracker, will boost the youth vote. Another key to youth turnout is turning the voting process into a more social affair, she said.
“There's been good data done over many years showing that young people are highly influenced by what their friends and family do and don't do, and so that's one of the challenges of getting people engaged,” Alexander said. “If they don’t see their friends doing it, they’re not going to do it.”
There are other reasons that Californians generally might be holding onto their ballots for a few extra days. Many Newsom supporters remain uncertain of whether to vote on the ballot’s second question, Alexander said, while those in favor of the recall could be waiting to ensure that their replacement candidate doesn’t drop out, as former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose did in August due to health issues.
Alexander also noted there is a lot going on in everyday life, with schools reopening across the state and wildfires forcing evacuations in several pockets of Northern California, including near Lake Tahoe. But she was optimistic that more residents would begin to pay attention to the recall as Election Day approaches.
“I have a feeling that Labor Day weekend is going to be a time that maybe people start focusing on this election more than they have been,” Alexander said.
Election Day is Tuesday, Sept. 14.