Tuesday's election may set new lows for voter turnout in San Diego County, which could mean that some contests will be decided by a mere handful of votes, according to a report released Monday by the National University System's Institute for Policy Research.
The election includes heavily funded campaigns to unseat District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Rep. Scott Peters, install a new mayor in Chula Vista, fill vacancies on the San Diego City Council and decide on a zoning plan for Barrio Logan.
But primary campaigns in nonpresidential election years typically fail to attract voters. And after dealing with as many as four other elections in the past two years, with a sixth coming up in November, local voters appear to be burning out, the report said.
"Voter fatigue is negatively impacting election turnout," said Vince Vasquez, the institute's senior policy analyst.
Based on trends in absentee voting, Vasquez says turnout could be as low as 18 to 23 percent Tuesday. In contrast, 36 percent of voters cast ballots in last November's mayoral primary, 45 percent voted in the subsequent general election in February and 77 percent voted during President Barack Obama's bid for re-election in 2012.
A historically low turnout Tuesday would make it much easier to change the outcome of a particular election with only a few votes. As a result, Vasquez predicted, local campaigns will be working up until the minute the polls close in order to get supporters to polling places.
Countywide, roughly 211,000 people have already voted through absentee ballots, including 96,000 in the city of San Diego, with 39,000 Democrats, 35,000 Republicans and 18,000 independents.
But even though Democrats have an edge citywide, Republicans have been more active in the two most heavily contested City Council districts: District 2, where – as a result of redistricting — current District 6 incumbent Lorie Zapf is being challenged by attorney Sarah Boot, and District 6, where Christopher Cate, vice president of the San Diego Taxpayers Association, faces teacher Carol Kim.
Even though Democratic registration in those districts leads Republican registration by nearly 5,000 votes, Republicans have sent in 800 more absentee ballots than Democrats — and that kind of lead can be crucial in a tight race, Vasquez said.
But he added that because the vast majority of people have not cast ballots, "candidates still have an opportunity to sway voters."