Low turnout for Alameda County primary despite overflowing ballot box

photo of ballot box
Brian Bi/Staff
Although there were reports of overflowing ballot boxes in North Berkeley, data suggests that voter turnout was mostly low for the Alameda County primary election Tuesday.

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Update 6/9/22: This article has been updated to include additional information from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.

Despite reports of an overflowing ballot box in North Berkeley, preliminary data suggests Tuesday’s Alameda County primary election saw low voter turnout.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s office received reports that the ballot box by the public library in North Berkeley was full, but election officials responded to the situation promptly, according to Stefan Elgstrand, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. Elgstrand added the quick response meant the situation had no impact on the ballots.

Campus political science and public policy professor Henry Brady, whose wife went to drop off their ballots around midday at that same ballot box next to the library, mentioned an individual was present to direct voters to a different box.

“Somebody there said it was full and pointed to another box, so she walked there and dropped her ballot,” Brady said. “When she returned, an election official emptied the box to be used for the day.”

The multiple locations and voting methods, such as a polling location near the library, also helped ensure there was minimal disruption to the voting process, according to Elgstrand.

Although the ballot box in North Berkeley was full, Elgstrand said turnout was expected to be low — which is expected with primaries as opposed to general elections. However, with a 21% voter turnout, Berkeley had higher results than Alameda County at 17% and California at 19% as of press time, according to Political Data Intelligence.

According to Alameda County Registrar Tim Dupuis, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters projects a 29% turnout, which may change in the seven days following the election as they receive valid ballots in the mail.

“Berkeley, being a civically active community, did have a higher turnout on average,” Elgstrand said in an email. “These numbers will go up as ballots continue to be counted.”

Brady claimed that the lack of an “exciting,” “top-of-the-ticket” race contributed to the low turnout. For example, he said current California Gov. Gavin Newsom would “obviously” be the gubernatorial candidate.

Brady also cited the controller race, which despite more excitement still did not motivate voters.

“If there’s a top-of-the-ticket race or a proposition that’s controversial, people hear about it and want to vote, but we didn’t have either this time,” Brady said.

According to Brady, propositions were removed from primary elections under Gov. Jerry Brown due to low voter turnout.

Aside from the lack of controversial races and propositions, Brady said the mailed ballots could have either increased or decreased turnout since they are a “novelty” and voters may be more familiar with going to an in-person polling place, which had limited options.

While people are less likely to vote in primary elections, Brady emphasized they are still important because they can decide who will be the next representatives.

“In this state, where Democrats are so important, they will get the ultimate victory,” Brady said. “The primary does a fair amount of deciding for who will represent the party, and Democrats typically win.”

Contact Aileen Wu at [email protected], and follow them on Twitter at @aileenwu_.