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San Diego County Turnout Just 20 Percent

June 4, 2014 1:13 p.m.


Michael Vu, Registrar of Voters, San Diego County

John Nienstedt, President & CEO, Competitive Edge Research

Carl Luna, Political Science Professor, Mesa College

Related Story: San Diego County Turnout Just 20 Percent


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, the San Diegans who actually voted in yesterday's primary election delivered many of the expected results. Bonnie Dumanis defeated a strong challenge from Bob Brewer to win a fourth term. The incumbents of the San Diego city council won their races, and the candidates in the fifty-second congressional district will be Scott Peters and Carl DeMaio. But there were a couple of surprises. Barrio Logan rezoning plan props B & C lost decisively, and the vote is still too close to call in the fifth district supervisors race between Bill Horn and Jim Wood. Joining me to talk about the turnout is my guest San Diego County registrar of voters, Michael Vu. Welcome to the program.

MICHAEL VU: Thank you for having me again.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Also joining the are Mesa college political science professor Carl Luna, Carl it is good to see you.

CARL LUNA: Good to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And John Nienstedt of Competitive Edge Research welcome to the program.

JOHN NIENSTEDT: My pleasure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael, we have been reporting a 20% turnout in this election. Is that the number that you have, and is that an all-time low?

MICHAEL VU: That is correct. Right now the official turnout is 20.5%. We still have 98,000 outstanding balance the need to be considered. You consider all of that and all of those votes, then we're seeing a higher number than 20.5%.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As it stands now, this must be one of the lowest turnouts that you have on record, is that right?

MICHAEL VU: That is correct. The last time we had a low record on file was 33% turnout. This of course is much lower than the number.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: John, you came very close to your protected turnout to this very low number that we're looking at here. Why did you project such a low turnout?

JOHN NIENSTEDT: The key is looking at early votes. We are able to look at the number of folks who are putting in the time. Thirty days before the election returning their ballots, when you look at those and extrapolate that out, we clearly saw two weeks out this was going to be in election where turnout would be low. We did not know how low, at one point turnout was 16%, that was early line. As it with a long, and went up. My final estimate was 25 - 27%. I think will come in about 25 to 26%.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Was it just the numbers that tell you the story, or are there other things that indicated this would be a low turnout election?

JOHN NIENSTEDT: It is mainly the numbers, of course we as a survey company, we pull on an issue and asked the question about how likely they are to vote. We saw more disconnection this time around.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael, can you clear up a question about this talk to primary? I have read articles that say this is the first time for the top two, haven't we done this before?

MICHAEL VU: We did. We had a top two primary election in 2012, that was the first top two primary election. But when we talk about top two primary, it happened this election. The reason why I say that come into this and what we had the presidential race. You still had to be affiliated with a political party to fill out that party's ballot. With this election we did not have that, it was all statewide offices, legislative offices, and congressional offices that really paved the way for the first truly top two primary.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Any contest you are aware of in California where top two members of the same party will face each other in in November?

MICHAEL VU: I have not had a chance to look at it. It will be interesting to see whether or not to individuals from the same political party made it to the general election.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think there's also a bit of confusion about which elections could've been decided by 50% plus one, and which had to go to November.

MICHAEL VU: There is a distinction that need to be made. The top two primary elections or vote getters go to the runoff election. It only applies to state, legislative, and congressional offices. Nonpartisan offices are your local races, the majority of those contests are 50+1.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have been seeing various reports where the Bill Horn fifth supervisor district election stands, the San Diego Board of Supervisors race for the fifth district. I saw Bill Horn wins by a small amount, I know you don't call elections, but are there still a lot of ballots left to count?

MICHAEL VU: As we reported on our website we have about 98,000 outstanding ballots. For us, we don't speculate whether or not that will change the outcome as it currently stands, certainly it will change election results because we will add more votes to those candidates. We will let statisticians determine whether it changes the final outcome or not.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My final question to you Michael, how long will it take to count the remaining balance?

MICHAEL VU: Legally we are allowed twenty-eight days to certify the election. The majority of the mail ballots we will start reporting out the results as early as Thursday or Friday, the bulk of it will come out on Monday. The provisionals take longer because we have to research as well as make sure that no one double voting has occurred. It was a couple of weeks, whether or not it takes a couple of weeks remains to be seen. I know that is a close one to watch and we are sensitive to that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I appreciate your time, thank you so much. Carl, what are the biggest stories coming out of the Tuesday primary elections as far as you are concerned?

CARL LUNA: Low voter turnout, it may be a function of people being numb. It is a primary election year, there's nothing sexy on the ticket. After Bob Filner, who would rather watch American Idol than pay attention to politics for a while. Money also was a major winner yesterday. Whoever had the most money to we won, or in the case of Chris Kate in district 6, he was able to make it into the runoff in the superior position. Prop B & C are going down in flames. Those flames were fed by piles of money.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And just to get back to Bill Horn and Jim Wood in the election, it is still too close to call. Is it a surprise?

CARL LUNA: It is a surprise. The board of supervisors, I compare them a little bit too sensual Asian despotism. People don't typically leave until they die, now we have term limits finally in place. You had Jim Wood, from Oceanside, who is not a big change from Bill Horn. Bill Horn is Bill Horn, he has had a lot of baggage over the decades. He has been in there centuries, whatever it has been. I was surprised early on it look like Mister Wood might win, now it is the provisional ballots. Usually the Board of Supervisors incumbents win.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Governor Brown in speaking about the low turnout which was a phenomenon statewide, he said it may indicate that Californians are relatively confident and are not troubled by any great challenge or issue.

JOHN NIENSTEDT: It sounds like something the sitting governor would say.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is that your take on it?

JOHN NIENSTEDT: There is something to be said when people are satisfied, or when electorates are satisfied they tend to vote less. I think what is happening, as Carl has mentioned, there is some voter fatigue that has set in. We had two mayoral races in close succession, that were very active. There was a lot of discussion, a lot of activity on the part of voters. Before that we had another mayoral race, and a presidential election, that kind of combination with the primary coming so quickly afterwards creates a sense of voter fatigue. We actually saw a regular voters, four of four voters were tuckered out here we see that, because you it is fatigue more than anything else.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Even though there was this fatigue and you think that fatigue would go across the board, Carl, are we expect to consider the most of the people who did give themselves to vote were from that typical group that gets themselves to vote in the primary election? And that is Republicans?

CARL LUNA: Well, we Republicans having an advantage in low turnout elections, because their electric tends to be older and more condition to vote. I don't think yesterday's election worked a whole bunch of people's first time voters. People were probably sit it out and figure out how they will vote in the fall. It did help the Republican turnout which will be the strongest you'll see Republican candidates in San Diego. It will be a little bit more democratic, but not like a presidential year.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS and Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Yesterday's primary election was characterized by low turnout, and the contest on the whole did not generate a whole lot of public interest. But as far as the fifty-second congressional races concerned, public interest is expected to go up considerably by the general election in November. Joining me to discuss the results, once again, Carl Luna, local political science professor at Mesa College. It was expected that the matchup in November would be Democratic incumbents Scott Peter and Carl DeMaio, and that is what was the result from yesterday's election. But as you looked deeper into it, were there any surprises in the fifty-second congressional race?

CARL LUNA: It it's interesting that Carl DeMaio, being a well-established Republican candidate got 35% of the votes, meanwhile to Republican newbies, Kirk Jorgensen and Fred Simon got between them almost 21%. Carl DeMaio, as a new Republican moving toward the moderate center, which is what this district is, how far they will have to backtrack to the right to attract these voters is going to have a take impact to the campaign in November.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The fact in the primary election like this especially with low turnout, most of the voters are expected to be more conservative, or Republican. What did these numbers tell you?

CARL LUNA: It said that Scott Peters with 42% of the vote, he is in the better position because he has a good Democratic base if they show up to the polls. Carl DeMaio has to ask the question, can he attract enough independents and his own base in the party, because they're going to be a smaller voice in November.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Earlier today I spoke with Republican candidate Carl DeMaio about moving on to the November election, here is that interview:


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Carl, conventional wisdom says that in this low turnout election, not as many Democrats as Republicans voted yesterday. Yet Scott Peters still got 42% of the vote, 6% more than you received, does that mean you have a lot of work to do as we go in to November?

CARL DEMAIO: I think the way you should look at it, 58% of the voters rejected the current voice that they have in Congress, they are not satisfied with the direction of solving problems, the lack of ideas, the partisanship, divisiveness, and they want to go beyond soundbites. They want to hear specifics. I've always been a candidate who is a leader, who provides specific solutions. I am willing to stand up and insist that we are honest about problems. If we're not honest about problems we are not able to actually get to solutions to impact people's lives. I have a record of turning around the city from the brink of bankruptcy. By the way, let's remember that the city was put on the brink of bankruptcy by Scott Peters in his eight years on city Council. Scott also has opposed the reforms that his own voters have supported. Pension reform, competitive sourcing of city services to save money so we can restore services, and of course he proposed in 2010 during the midst of a bad economy a very regressive tax increase. The largest tax increase in the history of the city, prop D. That would've hurt our working class and our middle-class families the most.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When it comes to election results from the primary, does this indicate that you might have a problem with the Republican base in the fifty-second district?

CARL DEMAIO: I don't think so at all. I took on my own party, because I believe that the Republican party needs make major changes. They need to get off this divisive social issues. Why don't we go back to the traditional views of the Republican party of standing up for personal freedoms. Let individuals decide these issues the context of faith and family believes. Get government out of it. I don't want to see government trying to legislate a moral agenda, when particularly the government is dropping the ball on issues it should be focused on. National debt, Veterans Affairs benefits, education, the list goes on and on with the government should be focused on, but it is not because it is focused on sideshow issues trying to make decisions in our personal lives that it has no business being involved in.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Carl DeMaio, you have been tagged as the symbol of the new Republican candidate. I think you have been explaining a little bit what that means. Is this something that you are hoping to take to the larger national GOP? The new image?

CARL DEMAIO: Absolutely. And I think San Diego believes in this notion that we need to have leaders who are fiscally responsible, focused on job creation, trying to make government work. Stop attacking and start fixing the problems that we face and be willing to take on your own party, be willing to stand up to the extremes on both sides of the aisle. They constantly push to divide us rather than focus on areas where we may agree and unite us. On the city council, most of my budget reforms got done by partisan votes. Kevin Faulconer and I, when I was sworn in, we were on the losing end of the 26 minority, and yet we were able to get substantial reform done to the city Council. My reforms that the support of San Diegans across the city, every walk of life, every political party label.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A lot of political watchers looking at the contest between the EU and Scott Peters that is lined up for November, saying that the GOP has the hopes that this congressional seat may be in play, that you might be able to witness. Should we expect to see the money for into your campaign from national donors?

CARL DEMAIO: My biggest concern in politics today is the impact of big money on both sides. You have got the government labor unions that poor millions of dollars in on Democrat side, big businesses that poor money in, and a lot of times it is without the permission of candidates. That is why I am focused on building a grassroots network of volunteers and supporters. I see so many of my supporters giving five dollars a month, twenty-five dollars a month, and we have been able to get a tremendous amount of support from across the political spectrum from every walk of life. At the end of the day, when I am most concerned about are the talking points from Washington your have heard them from Scott Peters. He is calling me the gay pro-choice environmental reformer, a tea party extremist right-wing nutjob. Let's remember that the far right spent $500,000 against me in this primary. They know that I am someone who is in the center, willing to work across party lines, willing to challenge my own party and threading that my party get off the divisive social issues, and I know that does not sit well with some of the extremes, but I believe that is where San Diego is, where our country is headed, and I am just so pleased to be part of a national conversation that I think has to be had if we're going to move our nation forward.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Will you be speaking out against any PAC purchased commercials that support you that are paid for by these outside interests?

CARL DEMAIO: Yes, I think the focus should be on our solutions. Not on trashing the other side. I think with the focus on solutions, we have already laid out a number of detailed policy proposals. And you know when I ran for mayor and when I was on the city council, hundreds of pages of policy proposals at my office would issue for the challenges facing our city. I'm doing the same thing at the national level, because we will not be able to get things done if we talk about what is wrong on the other side. We get things done when we lay out solutions and ask people to come together to get those done.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I am sure we will be speaking again before November, thank you so much for coming in and speaking with us. Congressman Scott Peters is joining me now, in studio. Welcome. You are the incumbent in the fifty-second district, you have only 42% of the votes in the primary yesterday, what do you need to do for November?

SCOTT PETERS: We're excited about this. We were talking about the low turnout, 26% turnout, a much older voter base, we need to get people out. We also need to run a campaign. The federal system unlike some local races, you cannot win the race in the primaries. The important thing is to be in the top two. We do not pay anything into mail, I think Mister DeMaio spent half $1 million on mail. We do not do any TV, we had a lot of volunteers and were able to actually in his first when we thought we would come in second. We think people are responding to the approach we are taking in Congress.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Buddy to choose such a low-key campaign in the primary?

SCOTT PETERS: You can't win until November. The sports analogy as you rest your starters well. Even without a campaign, we think that people have picked up the kind of approach we are taking which is a San Diego focused approach, on job creation, business, innovation, military and veterans, energy and environment. And actually bringing resources and talking about specifics to San Diego, working with the five of us Republicans and Democrats together in our delegation. We brought $350 million in the last few months to San Diego for border infrastructure and defense. I think people would tell you that kind of bipartisan cooperation locally has been unknown before.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Your congressional seat is considered one of the few in the nation that is up in the air, that could go to a challenger. Why do you think that is?

SCOTT PETERS: Is drawn for that, one third Republican, one third Democrat, one third independent. I've never been the most partisan elected official, I was the first Democrat to represent my district on the city council. A lot of people tell me I was the only Democrat or the first Democrat they supported. That is something that this district demands, not a lot of speeches, or creating a lot of plans they cannot get enacted, it is someone who is trying to really work through problems and create solutions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Does it make you feel like you have to water down your message because you want to appeal to such a broad group?

SCOTT PETERS: No, I am who I am. People know from my work on the city council and for the port, my colleagues entrusted me with the Council presidency for three straight years because I will work with anyone to get things done. It is not being a Republican or Democrat, that is what I've been throughout my career. I have been rated in Congress with most independent Democrats by my voting record, one of the most independent Democrats, that is who I am. I think the solutions are in the middle. Now, Mister DeMaio talks about social issues and civil rights issues, I do not think they are a sideshow. I think the federal government has always played a great role in protetecting women's rights to make their own decisions about healthcare, making sure you can marry who you want, and voting rights, where we're seeing a lot of intimidation from people voting. Don't see that as a sideshow, but on economic issues it is about sitting around the table and talking about solutions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: People are looking at the upcoming race they see that the district is in play and a lot of money is going to go into this. Do you expect to see money coming in from out of state national donors and unions to try to keep you in Congress?

SCOTT PETERS: I don't know, I expect that if it stays close that will happen, that is certainly something that has happened in the history. So far we have had some outside spending, Mister DeMaio said he would speak against it, he actually didn't when they spent $300,000 against me. They also donated directly to his campaign, the billionaire oil companies, anti-climate change brothers. I did have $300,000 spent by the league of conservation voters. At least the voters know where the money is coming from for each of us. If it was up to me I would require disclosure of donors at least and work towards limiting the role of money in politics in the equivalency between speech and money, which is misguided by the Supreme Court.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And speaking with Carl DeMaio he said one thing he wanted to see was a positive race with so much outside money come into this race. How would you like to see this race between you and Carl DeMaio go-between now and November?

SCOTT PETERS: I think we should talk about our records. I have a record in Congress, I'm proud of it, it is San Diego-based and focused on veterans, focused on getting people help and getting people jobs, making sure education is affordable. Mister DeMaio's record is different, he is trying to remake himself into this person who likes to work across the aisle. When he was on the city council, he was our tea party guy. He was the guy who always voted, 102 times he was the only no vote on the city council. He said he worked on budgets, but he voted against all four of the city council Mayor budgets when he was there. He was one of the two votes against the health care plan that saved $700 million. And when he wanted to run to replace Bob Filner, his own party elders sat in the room and chose Kevin Faulconer and said Carl, you are too divisive, go run for Congress. That is what we have too much of in Congress. I don't think you'll be able to run away from that record. Let us compare records and our ability to work with people to get things done, think people will see that we are providing the representation that I promised in 2012, and that they want.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for speaking with us.

SCOTT PETERS: Thank you, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Carl Luna is still here with us. Any surprises as you look at the state returns in this primary?

CARL LUNA: I was shocked to see that Jerry Brown was going to be the likely front runner in November. I said when he ran the first time, for the third time for Governor when he won the governorship again, that he is kind of the Obi-Wan Kenobi of California politics. If he wasn't seventy-six, most would say here is a guy who's got a good shot of running for resident with Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, quite a testament for a guy who was once called Governor Moonbeam. Quite a comeback. He got 56% of the vote. In the controller's race, there is an outside chance that the candidates involved could end up with two Republicans, because of the persons in the third places like 2000 votes behind the second-place Democrat if the front runner is Republican. That would be of minor interest, that if you ask most people who the controller is, they would not know. Other than that, the statewide race has broken along the Democratic majority. For Lieutenant Governor, for Governor almost every county voted for Jerry Brown. Almost every county voted for Gavin Newsom. I don't think Democrats are in any weak shape in November.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You mentioned the state controller, here in San Diego County. For the first time this election forced the voters to think about the County Assessor's Office. But as it turned out, Ernie Dronenberg won big.

CARL LUNA: You can try to force people to think about it, does not mean that they are going to. In a race like that, Mister Dronenberg, in the absence of huge scandal, people just vote for the incumbent or even skip the item. If you look at the votes cast for that, they are lower than you would see in some of the countywide votes that were cast. Dan McAllister, County Treasurer, he simply rolled into reelection. Not as much excitement down ticket on the County.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The DA race was the one that took out most of the interest, and as it turned out, Bonnie Dumanis won decisively. Does that have to do more with her record or the low turnout? How are you analyzing that?

CARL LUNA: That is when you go to the C all of the above or D none of the above. Normally the district attorney running for reelection does not get much of a challenge. Last time she had a major challenge was when there was an open seat, and she defeated Mike Aguirre about 200 years ago. She has been in and out three terms, if it had not been for the scandal and the allegations of scandal involving money from a foreign national, she might have gotten 60% of the vote. But it gave Mister Brewer an edge in, plus you have fatigue. When you have three terms, it might wear against you. Bonnie Dumanis has not had a huge successes, but she is not had huge failures. Probably running for mayor and losing was one of the reasons also why she won by a narrow margin. Now the question will be if there will be any fire to go with the smoke with this reform coming in, and we have to deal with the District Attorney down the pike.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My last question to you, what we have in store for November? What are you watching for?

CARL LUNA: I am waiting for Dalton Abbey to come back on in January, and the new fall season. Local politics, the Sixth Council district race, Mr. Cates versus Mrs. Kim, will be interesting. The questions how much money the unions will pony up, the business interests, Republicans keeping the four seat minority protecting Kevin Faulconer's veto. Other than that, the congressional race. Scott Peters probably has the advantage coming in, but you are just talking about depending on whose commercials you listen to in the fall. With the devil Democrat here and the fascist Republican on the tape, it will get nasty, which might depress voter turnout in that race.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for speaking with me.

CARL LUNA: Thank you.