By Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field
Despite a record number of Californians registered to vote, the turnout in today’s election will likely include about one million fewer voters than in the last presidential election. The Field Poll estimates that 12.75 million Californians will participate in today’s presidential election, down from 13.74 million who voted in 2008.
However, the number who vote using mail ballots will reach a new high, and will likely be the first statewide general election in which mail ballot votes exceed those cast at local polling precincts.
According to official estimates the state’s total population is slightly less than 38 million, about 23.8 million of whom are citizens of voting age. Of these, 18.2 million have registered to vote for this year’s election.
If the actual number of votes cast meets The Field Poll’s 12.75 million estimate this would represent a turnout of 69.9% of registered voters and a participation rate of 53.6% of citizen-eligible adults.
The following table summarizes of the numbers of California’s total population, citizen-eligible adults, registered voters and actual voting participants in each statewide general election since 1960.
According to estimates of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials over 9.1 million mail ballots have been distributed to voters in advance of today’s election. This includes about 8 million permanent mail ballot registrants, who have requested that they be sent their voting materials by mail in advance of each election, about 450 thousand others who requested a mail ballot for this election, 579 thousand voters who live in most rural mail-only voting districts, as well as about 110 thousand mail ballots that have been distributed to government, military or other Californians living overseas.
The Field Poll estimates that about 6.5 million of all votes cast in this election will be those considered by the California Secretary of State as regular mail or early ballot voters. This would represent over half (51%) of all ballots cast in this year’s presidential election, and would be the first time the number of mail ballots exceeds the number voting at their local polling precinct in a California general election.
Over the past thirty years, there has been a steady and uninterrupted increase in both the number and proportion of voters who are choosing to vote by mail. In 1978 just 314 thousand Californians – 4.4 % of the total – voted by mail. By 1990 both the number and proportion of mail ballots had increased four-fold to 1.4 million, representing 18.4% of all votes cast. In the last presidential election in 2008 the number of Californians voting by mail had increased to over 5.7 million or 41.6% of the total statewide vote. This is expected to increase to about 6.5 million in this year’s election, 51.% of the total.