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Turnout Could Be Low In Special Mayoral Election

The official seal for the city of San Diego.

Photo by Angela Carone / KPBS

Above: The official seal for the city of San Diego.

What do you have when you hold a special election in an off-year with no presidential campaign — right before the Thanksgiving holiday?

As San Diego marches towards a special mayoral election on Nov. 19, a new policy study finds the turnout rate may be a bit on the lighter side.

Special Feature Special Election

It could add up to bad news for the turnout rate, according to Erik Bruvold, president and CEO of the San Diego Institute for Policy Research, a non-partisan think tank.

The Institute released recently a policy brief which used the trends of past elections to try to predict the turnout of the upcoming one.

Bruvold said it could the low numbers would hit Democrats hardest, since he predicts those that do turn out to vote will lean to the right.

“We expect those turning out will be typically older, more affluent and more conservative based upon what’s occurred on other off-year and special elections,” Bruvold said.

However, Bruvold said turnout does not necessarily represent the changes happening to San Diego's political makeup.

"Republicans now are third place in the city if we look at registration, trailing both Democrats and decline-to-state voters,” Bruvold said.

He said the demographic trend became noticeable in 2012, and is still going strong.

But the voters who propelled former Mayor Bob Filner to power might not turn up at the ballot box this Nov. 19.

Bruvold said the act of voting itself is also changing. No longer does the electorate head to their local school, library or neighbor's garage to cast their ballots — now they use good old-fashioned snail mail.

Bruvold expects two-thirds of the votes to be cast through absentee or mail-in ballots.

“So in a lot of ways the election outcome is going to be known at about 8:05 on Tuesday night when the voter registrar releases the tally for those votes,” Bruvold said.

The parts of San Diego that have seen the most growth in recent years are those north of Los Penasquitos Preserve and north of Imperial Avenue. Bruvold said the growth is in part fueling the discussion of neighborhoods so prevalent in recent mayoral campaigns. Whether or not those areas get out the vote could well be key, according to Bruvold.

As to how the dueling facts of a Republican-favored turnout in a Democratic-leaning town will ultimately affect the outcome? Bruvold’s best bet is that we won’t get a definitive answer until after a run-off election in early 2014.

"It would be almost impossible for any one candidate the get more than 50 percent of the vote,” he said.

Bruvold said each election is unique and contains variables which make his work predictive, but not absolute. He said he doesn't expect the "Filner Coalition" of younger and minority progressives to come out to vote like they did last year.

These kind of special elections, he said, traditionally just don't get that kind of turnout.

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