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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

S.F. Polling Places Are Mostly Empty on Election Day

Posted By on Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 1:13 PM

Plenty of good seats available - GREENLINING INSTITUTE
  • Greenlining Institute
  • Plenty of good seats available

The age-old appropriated bromide -- what if they held an election and nobody came -- is being put to the near-test today in San Francisco.

The city's final off-off-year election (we'll continue to have odd-numbered elections but never a ballot so sparse as today's, thanks to -- what else -- a ballot proposition) has a serious shot at the record books, in a very unwanted, Mark Reynolds-Adam Dunn kind of way.

The electorate of 2013 has a chance of winning the title of lowest-ever turnout for a San Francisco election. There's been reports of voters having polling places all to themselves, while others have been in search for polling stations that have since moved, suggesting we're well on our way to securing that low-voter turnout title.

It's not that San Francisco voters don't give a fuck -- it's that they don't give a fuck about this ballot. City voters turn out well for presidential elections and when there are candidates actually competing for office, neither of which is happening today. The lowest-ever turnout in a November election in San Francisco is 22.58 percent, the showing voters presented in 2009 -- when the ballot was also boring. The all-time mark for voter apathy, probably never to be surpassed, was the December 2001 runoff election that saw Dennis Herrera best Jim Lazarus for the title of City Attorney thanks to 16.58 percent of voters -- or about 75,000 people. That record is safe, possibly because we no longer have runoff elections. So this begs the question: Can we do it -- can we decrease turnout to the low-20s? Some political experts think so: consultant Nicole Derse, whose firm just ran Corey Booker's successful bid for New Jersey Senator, is betting that only 23 percent of voters cast a ballot today. City officials are more sanguine. Elections Department head John Arntz told the Chronicle that he's expecting 35 percent turnout, around the same as the June 2010 primary -- though he may not be helping his own case. If the former editor of the San Francisco Examiner and Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom's ex-chief of staff can't find her polling place -- and others reported their polling stations had moved -- what hope do the rest of us have? The Greenlining Institute's Bruce Mirken -- veteran of the Marijuana Policy Project -- reported plenty of seats available at his polling station this morning, which is to say all of them. We just checked in with an elections worker, who reported things were "quiet" at City Hall, where voting goes until 8 p.m. Elsewhere in the city, voters reported a few oddities -- such as a polling place in the middle of the Bernal Heights housing projects, or no "I voted!" stickers at a polling station in Duboce Triangle. Despite the lack of voters to woo, candidates are still spending aplenty. Supervisor Katy Tang and Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu (Tang's predecessor as District 4 supervisor) have raised a combined $350,000 in their races against ... nobody, and have spent tens of thousands of dollars on consulting fees. What advice could consultants possibly give that's so valuable in a field of one? Don't smoke crack, perhaps. Never hurts to do the small things.
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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