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Most Valley voters skipped the March 5 primary election
• Experts say why – and what it means for Nov. 5
Voter apathy

If you know a registered voter in Stanislaus County, chances are that person didn’t bother voting in the March 5 primary.

While that may sound discouraging, experts say there’s a good chance it won’t have much bearing on what turnout looks like in November. 

According to the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters, as of  5 p.m. Friday data show about 29.9% of the county’s 285,977 registered voters participated in the primary.

Voter turnout was similarly low in other nearby Valley counties, although Merced County was at the bottom of the heap.

As of March 5 turnout for other San Joaquin Valley counties included: Fresno County (29.72%), Madera County (37.10%) and San Joaquin County (33.8%).  

The statewide average for turnout wasn’t much better than the Valley, with 33.6% of registered California voters casting ballots in the 2024 primary election.

Nate Monroe, political science professor at UC Merced, said voters broadly fit into three categories:

1). Those who vote out of a sense of duty in every election;

2). Those who vote during an election to express a certain opinion, or

3). Those who vote with the belief their participation may be pivotal to deciding an election outcome. 

Monroe said many of the voters who did turn out for the March 5 primary probably fit into the first category. For the other two categories, there may not have been much motivation to vote in the primary.

Case in point, regardless of how any Californian voted in the presidential primary, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump had already solidified their respective Democratic and Republican nominations to run for a November rematch.

There were other races on the primary ballot that, regardless of who received a higher margin of votes in March, still won’t be decided until November. 

For example, Republican John Duarte and Democrat Adam Gray were listed on the primary ballot in the battle for California’s 13th Congressional District seat. But even before a single primary vote was cast, Duarte and Gray were already set for a November runoff. 

“I think one side of the story is that the pieces that have to be in play to get moderate or high voter turnout, they just aren’t there in a primary election where you don’t have real serious competition for the presidential nomination,” said Monroe.

Monroe also explained that most campaigns, particularly in Congressional races, are saving the bulk of their resources for the November general election – where spending money can make a big difference in close races. 

Some of the most important national races in November for control of the House of Representatives are in the San Joaquin Valley. 

With the level of spending focused on those races by campaigns, political action committees and other powerful interests, Monroe won’t be surprised if that results in higher turnout at Valley ballot boxes in November. 

“The congressional races are going to draw an enormous amount of money, focus, energy, media attention, human capital and hours trying to bring voters to the polls on each side (in November) to get their candidates across the finish line,” commented Monroe. 

“And so I think where you get low turnout in (the primary) election, you’re going to very likely see equally surprising high numbers of turnout in the general election, not just because voters are going to care a lot more and see their role as more important, but also because campaigns have saved a lot of money.”

In addition to the presidential and Congressional races, many more local races will be included on the November ballot. Among those will be Ceres’ mayoral seat and two Ceres City Council seats – that of District 3 occupied by Bret Silveira and District 4 occupied by Daniel Martinez.

The terms of three members of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors were up for voter decision on March 5 with none of them opposed. Many voters chose not to vote in those supervisor races given the lack of opposition but the lowest voter participation in Channce Condit’s District 5 where 22.11 percent voted for him. In Vito Chiesa’s District 2, which included Hughson, voter participation was 32.12 percent. In District 1’s race, Matthew “Buck” Condit enjoyed a 34.36 voter participation rate.

The Stanislaus County Elections Office is continuing to process any ballots received on time. California Law requires that if a ballot is submitted with no voter signature or the signatures does not match a voter’s registration card that they be notified no later than eight days prior to certification of the election. The voter can return the notice up until two days before certification.

The duplication process involving damaged, military, and overseas ballots to enable them ultimately to be counted is in process and is anticipated to continue throughout the canvass.

The office has completed the one percent hand tally of the vote.

Elections Code 15301 requires canvass shall be continued daily, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays excepted, for not less than six hours each day until completed. California law requires certification of this election to be on or before Thursday April 4, which is 30 days following Election Day.

Victor A. Patton is editor-in-chief of The Merced FOCUS, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced. Jeff Benziger also contributed to this story.