This June’s primary may have had the lowest voter turnout in California
history, but don’t tell that to the residents of Sierra County. While only
30.5 percent of eligible voters statewide cast a ballot, more than two out
of three eligible voters in this rural, mountainous county made their way to
They were not the only ones.
Residents of rural Northern California turned out in droves compared to
their urban, Southern California counterparts. Only seven California
counties had a turnout above 50 percent this June and all of them are in the
state’s sparsely populated areas. The top seven counties, by turnout, were
Alpine, Amador, Glenn, Modoc, Sierra, Trinity and Tuolumne. All those
counties, except Tuolumne, are north of the San Francisco Bay Area.
“Over many years, I have observed that smaller counties have a higher
turnout,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
“It is the large Southern California counties–Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles
and San Diego–that really drag down the participation rates for the entire
Theories abound as to why California’s open-space dwellers vote so often.
Some suggest that a higher proportion of absentee voters and less voter
mobility are the causes. Others say rural residents forge closer
relationships with local elected officials and, therefore, tend to vote.
Still, others credit the high proportion of English-language speakers.
“They believe that they can make a difference and they like to voice what it
is they want,” said Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka. “And they do it
Berg, whose district stretches along the coast from Oregon to the Bay Area,
received more votes (53,081) than any other Assembly candidate in the state
outside of Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, who represents the lopsidedly
In contrast, Assembly Speaker Fabian N