It’s amusing how many are finding local answers for San Francisco’s low voter turnout last week. We have the Chronicle
’s Matier & Ross arguing that
“boring candidates and lackluster campaigns equal low turnout, no matter what the system,” while others blame ranked choice voting or the holding of mayoral elections in odd numbered years (outside state or national contests). But San Francisco’s voter turnout was actually higher than the typical contest that has been held in the United States since 2009.
In Brooklyn’s high-profile congressional September special election to replace Anthony Weiner, the turnout was 7%. The same ballot featuring a hotly contested Democratic primary election for Assembly in which a major grassroots field campaign was waged on behalf of a charismatic local activist.
Only 16% of West Virginians voted in the state’s 2011 special primary for Governor, and the 2009 turnout of 39% in the Virginia’s Governor race was the lowest in forty years. Louisiana’s 36% turnout for its 2011 Governor’s race was the lowest since its current electoral system was implemented in 1975.
New York City’s most recent mayoral election in 2009 had the lowest turnout in the city’s modern history.
Since voting in record numbers in 2008, disaffected young people and traditional Democratic constituencies have substantially reduced their turnout. This overall turnout decline since 2009 was not meaningfully impacted by particularly charismatic candidates, exciting campaigns, or the high stakes of the race.
Turnout was 41.6% in the United States in the 2010 national elections. For an off-year election involving only local races, San Francisco’s November turnout well exceeded the national norm.