Berkeley residents turn out to vote in midterm election, despite predictions of low turnout

Rachael Garner/Staff

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Although midterm elections see relatively fewer voters than presidential elections, Berkeley residents headed to the polls Tuesday to vote for a number of high-profile measures and races, including the city’s first-ever tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The Field Poll, an independent and nonpartisan survey of California voters, predicted that Tuesday’s voter turnout would be at a historic low. Of California’s 17.8 million registered voters, the poll estimated only 8.2 million, or 46.1 percent, would participate — a mere one-third of the 24.3 million adult citizens eligible to vote. The predicted turnout would be the lowest participation rate in a California statewide general election since the poll began collecting data in 1960.

“A lot of students do not feel a sense of obligation or sense of duty in exercising the right to vote,” said Jobel Vecino, a UC Berkeley sophomore and co-director of the Vote Coalition, an ASUC initiative to increase student participation in elections. “But a lot of the time there’s a lot of students who don’t know enough, and because they don’t know enough, they try to stay away from it.”

Mike O’Donnell, a UC Berkeley graduate student, felt that low turnout was not surprising in a midterm election.

“I think it’s particularly difficult (when) there’s not enough high-profile candidates to get people to care as much as in a presidential election,” O’Donnell said.

In addition to low participation rates, Tuesday’s election was predicted by the Field Poll to have a greater percentage of early mail ballots than ever before, at 60 percent.  In 2012, mail votes outnumbered election day votes for the first time, with 51.2 percent of the votes.

For UC Berkeley graduate student Cameron Baker, using an absentee ballot allowed her to research and form an opinion from the comfort of her home, rather than guessing at the polling booth.

“I encouraged my friends to vote that way,” Baker said. “And if you turn it in on the day of (the election) you still get the sticker.”

Baker was also among multiple students expressing confusion over finding the address of polling places online.

“I wish (the location) was advertised better,” said Carlos Valenzuela, a junior at San Francisco State University who lives in Berkeley. “Otherwise, though, it was really quick and efficient.”

Voters in a number of counties across the country, including nearby Contra Costa County, experienced difficulties when election office websites crashed, making it more difficult for residents to find polling places.

To ensure that polls are conducted fairly, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it would send federal monitors to polling stations in 18 states and 28 counties, including Alameda County.

“I hope young voters take up a mentality of ‘yes, (apathy) is a problem, and yes, we can fix it,’ ” Vecino said. “Staying silent won’t change anything.”

Contact Alex Barreira at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.