Vote by mail ballot turnout was running about 40% higher than 2016 in Orange County as of Monday, and election officials estimate overall turnout could reach about the mid 60s.
Vote-by-mail ballots is 70% higher than 2012, said Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley.
“Some would say that’s unfair because everybody gets a vote-by-mail ballot now,” Kelley said. “Only 2% of registered voters who have voted in person (over the past few days).”
It’s unclear how voter turnout will be affected by a new voter center system in which ballots can be dropped off at 188 centers throughout the county as opposed to precincts, where residents had one place to vote near their home.
Kelley spent Monday urging voters to beat potential Super Tuesday crowds.
“But there’s always those people who want to shop on Christmas Eve. You can’t do anything about it,” Kelley said.
Voting on Monday was “steady, but not crazy,” he said.
Voters may also just fill out their ballot at home and drop it off at a voter center. The Registrar’s web site at ocvote.com lists all of the locations, and includes wait times.
Statewide turnout is expected to be about 50%, Kelley said. Orange County might see about 65%, with most of it coming from vote-by-mail, Kelley said.
The new system will also mean faster tabulations of ballots, Kelley said.
Kelley expects to have all of the vote-by-mail ballots cast as of Monday by 8 p.m. Tuesday. By 9 p.m., he expects to have the rest of the ballots, including in-person votes on election day, counted.
There won’t be many provisional ballots to count anymore because the precinct system was eliminated, Kelley said. The last batch of ballots to be counted will be the ones dropped in mail boxes on election day, Kelley said.
The Institute for Fair Elections on Monday handed over affidavits from its volunteers claiming more than half of 7,904 voters contacted by the nonprofit were “inaccurate registrants,” that included people who are not citizens, don’t live at the address anymore or have some other issue with their status.
“We are doing much more in Orange County than any other counties,” Kelley said of maintaining accurate voter rolls. “None of this is a surprise. It’s an ongoing thing and every day we have been working on those kinds of things. If they’re looking for a completely clean list that’s not going to happen.”
The heads of Democratic and Republican parties in Orange County felt confident heading in the primary and viewed it as a dry run for the November presidential election.
The big difference for Democrats is the party enjoys a slight advantage of registration, the first time since the Watergate era of the mid-1970s. There are 23,600 more Democrats registered than Republicans as of Monday, said Orange County Democratic Party Chairwoman Ada Briceno.
“Now we’re just working hard to turn out our voters,” Briceno said. “We’re very optimistic, but the truth is we have to make sure we’re changing the hearts and minds of voters going into these vote centers. Change is hard for folks, so we’ve been doing a lot of education.”
The party’s volunteers have gone door to door alerting voters they can cast their ballots at any of the vote centers.
“We’re telling people `don’t show up to the school… to your old polling place,’ ” Briceno said.
Orange County Republican Chairman Fred Whitaker said Democrats may have more voters signed up, but his party has seen about 35,000 more Republicans than Democrats voting so far.
The new voting system makes it easier for party bosses to see who hasn’t voted yet, Whitaker said. Republicans are also happy that there will be fewer provisional ballots, he added.
“I’m always concerned when there’s live ballots out there,” Whitaker said. “That leaves me with a little uncertainty and a risk for shenanigans, so we’ll have to see how that all plays out.”
Democratic officials say primaries tend to favor turnout for Republicans, but they expect a surge for the general election. In the last mid-term election, there were significant upswings for Democrats in the congressional general elections as opposed to the primaries.
Some of the top races observers are watching include two Orange County supervisor races as Republican incumbents Andrew Do, the vice chairman of the board, and Don Wagner, seek re-election in nonpartisan races.
Democratic attorney Ashleigh Aitken is challenging Wagner while Do is facing three Democrats, Westminster City Councilman Sergio Contreras, Garden Grove City Councilwoman Kim Bernice Nguyen and termed-out Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido.
Sen. Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, will square off in a rematch with Josh Newman, who was recalled and replaced by Chang, who narrowly lost to him in 2016.
Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, faces a challenge from Democratic Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, and UC Irvine law professor Dave Min, also a Democrat.