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Politics & Policy

No, voter turnout wasn’t ‘abysmally low’ in SF this election

Election clerks organize and count ballots in San Francisco City Hall voting center on Monday, June 6, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

UPDATE: Registered voter turnout was 46.01%, according to numbers published by the Department of Election’s on Sunday afternoon.

Across the state, reports of “dismal” turnout for the June 7 primary are being extrapolated as a sign of Californians’ apathy. 

But in San Francisco, the numbers aren’t all that out of tune with historical data. In fact, they’re above the average for similar elections, said John Arntz, director of the city’s elections department. This year’s turnout is slated to hit 46% as compared to the past three gubernatorial primaries, which average 39% turnout. The average for all primaries—presidential included—over the last 10 years is around 46%. 

While just around 37% of the votes are in so far, the city’s elections department is still processing around 44,000 ballots. That would put the total for this election at around 230,000 votes. Arntz’s team is working now to process all the ballots—each of which have three pages—and record the results, which he expects to be mostly finalized by Sunday.

“At this point, we have everything in hand, more or less,” Arntz said. “It just takes time. When you say it’s 100,000 ballots, it’s actually 300,000,” he added in reference to the additional pages.

Thursday’s release added 14,000 ballots and Friday’s added around 42,000 to the total, not yet enough to shift any of the results. Even with so many ballots still left to be counted, it’s very unlikely the result to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin will change—although support for the recall dropped to 56% with the latest returns. 

Still up in the air, however, is Proposition A, the transportation infrastructure bond, which needs 66.66% percent to pass. It’s currently hovering around 64% approval. 

If you’re checking your ballot and it still hasn’t been counted, don’t worry: As long as it was postmarked on Election Day, the elections department will accept it up to a week late. 

In the fall of 2021, California set a new policy to send every resident a ballot in the mail. Arntz said he hasn’t noticed a significant change in turnout as a result, but he said in-person voting has gone down since, likely due to the policy and the Covid pandemic. 

As for what drives turnout, Arntz said it remains the issues or candidates themselves. 

“I think it still depends on voters’ interest in what’s on the ballot, more so than the mechanisms,” Arntz said.