SACRAMENTO (AP) — State officials are preparing to embrace an expanded California electorate on Tuesday as nearly 18 million registered voters head for the polls or turn in early ballots in the state’s presidential primary.
A surge of 650,000 new voters less than two months ahead of the June 7 primary sets up a potentially big turnaround from the historically low turnout of 2014.
Before polling stations opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday, more than half of all people who cast ballots in the last primary had mailed in or dropped off early votes.
The drawn-out contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has driven an uptick in voter registrations. California is typically not a player in the presidential contest with its primary so late in the election season.
But it’s unknown whether those people will show up on election day or mail in their ballots.
“It’s certainly easy to register to vote,” said Orange County registrar of voters Neal Kelley. “It’s harder for people to get out and go cast a ballot.”
Although only one statewide initiative appears on the primary ballot, petitioners have turned in signatures for 20 more initiatives they hope to get on the Nov. 8 ballot. Counting those signatures and processing voter registrations has strained county election offices, some of which had to hire temporary workers to handle the workload.
The Field Poll predicts that two-thirds of voters will cast ballots by mail.
Kelley, who’s also chairman of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, said the increasing number of voters who cast their ballots by mail could relieve polling stations on Tuesday. If not, Kelley said, “election officials generally come through in the pinch.”
About 4.1 million California voters this year are Latino, 1.6 million are Asian, and 800,000 are black.
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