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Low Turnout In Calif.; Many Votes Still Uncounted

The votes are all in for the California primary but many remained uncounted Wednesday, leaving some races still up in the air, notably the statewide question on whether to increase the tax on tobacco to fund cancer research.

Special Feature KPBS Election Coverage

With more voters casting their ballots by mail local election officials can't process them all on election day, even one like Tuesday's that produced one of the lowest turnouts ever for a statewide primary.

So while tabulations show votes from all precincts across the state, many votes will remain uncounted for up to days and even weeks afterward. No one had a precise estimate on the uncounted votes statewide but it's at least hundreds of thousands and perhaps a million or more.

Some counties gave their own estimates. In San Diego County, election officials said 135,000 ballots were uncounted. Santa Clara had about 96,000; Alameda, 61,000; San Francisco, 31,000; San Bernardino, 30,000; and Santa Cruz, 16,000. That totaled 369,000 and many large counties — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, Contra Costa and Fresno — had yet to provide estimates.

"Every election it's the same story. The next day everybody calls in shock that there are ballots left to be processed and you can't call these tight elections like the cigarette tax," said Gail Pellerin, president of California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and registrar of voters for Santa Cruz County.

With about 3.8 million votes counted, Proposition 29 calling for a $1 tax hike on cigarettes and other tobacco products was losing by about 64,000 votes, or 1.6 percent.

Most of the unprocessed ballots are from people who mail in their ballots near the deadline or drop off mail-in ballots at their polling sites. Some also are "provisional" ballots, which are cast when there's a question about a voter's eligibility.

The Secretary of State's office reported turnout at 24 percent statewide, with about 4.1 million votes counted so far out of more than 17.1 million registered voters. The percentage will increase as the uncounted ballots are tabulated but even then the total likely will be only about 30 percent.

The lowest statewide primary turnout was 19.75 percent in June 2008, although the presidential primary was held in February that year. This year, the presidential primary was held along with other races Tuesday, but with no competition for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's nomination on the Republican side already assured there was little interest.

While it's likely most all the outstanding votes will be counted within days, state law gives county election officials until July 6 to produce a final tally.

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