Primary election sees low voter turnout, success of candidate native to Berkeley

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Tuesday’s primary election saw low voter turnout in Alameda County as well as the success of a Berkeley native who has never held elected office.

Alameda County voters showed up to the polls in lower numbers than in the 2012 primary, as well as in a lower percentage than the state overall, according to data updated Wednesday. Campus political science professor Terri Bimes called the low turnout “surprising” but attributed it to an absence of contentious initiatives on the ballot and relatively little competition among gubernatorial candidates.

“Political scientists have found that this result is not unusual — a lack of competition can drive turnout down,” Bimes said in an email.

In 2012, voter turnout for the primaries was 31.06 percent for the state and 31.81 percent for Alameda County. This year, statewide turnout numbers dropped to about 21.1 percent, and county numbers fell to 21.6 percent for the county, according to data last updated Saturday.

Election results are currently semi-official, as the number of ballots statewide have yet to be processed.

According to Wednesday’s data, Berkeley native Elizabeth Echols took the top vote of about 31.1 percent for the District 15 Assembly seat, which includes Berkeley and the surrounding East Bay. Nancy Skinner, who will be termed out this year, currently represents the district.

Five Democrats, one Republican, one Peace and Freedom candidate and one independent candidate ran for the seat. Echols, who has never held elected office, received the endorsement of both Mayor Tom Bates and Skinner, who served on City Council while a student at UC Berkeley.

Tony Thurmond, who has served on the Richmond City Council, came in second to Echols with 23.3 percent of the vote. He has helped fight gun violence in Richmond, and his current project, CEO Youth, aims to reduce truancy and dropout rates.

Echols focused her campaign on affordable higher education and equal employment opportunities, among other issues. She grew up in Berkeley and worked with the Obama administration as the regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Association.

“I would be so proud to represent Berkeley. Having grown up there, it has a special spot in my heart,” Echols said. “To represent my hometown and to work with the university and students, it would be a real honor.”

In the gubernatorial race, Gov. Jerry Brown was the most popular candidate, garnering about 54 percent of votes in the state. His closest competitor, Neel Kashkari, won about 19 percent of the vote.

Gubernatorial candidate Cindy Sheehan, a former Berkeley resident who ran with the Peace and Freedom party, received about 1 percent of the vote.

“It was a very low-energy and hard election, but I think coming in seventh … is good for the money and help we did manage to get,” Sheehan said in an email.

The top two candidates for these positions will advance to the general election on Nov. 4.

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.