A couple days ahead of the state deadline, Imperial County certified the local results of the Nov. 3 general election this week, ending up with the lowest voter turnout among California’s 58 counties at just under 68 percent.
As of Thursday morning, Dec. 3, the statewide turnout with all counties reporting their final results was 80.7 percent.
Imperial County’s turnout was 67.95 percent, ranking it dead last against the highest county turnout of 90.5 percent in the Bay area’s Sonoma County.
Across the board these were some of the highest turnouts and numbers ever recorded in California, according to the Secretary of State’s website. The last election to approach 80 percent for the state was the Nov. 4, 2008, presidential election at 79.42 percent.
For Imperial County, the highest recorded voter turnout came in the Nov. 3, 2016, presidential election, when 69.66 percent of eligible registered voters cast ballots. That “record,” however, is a bit disingenuous.
“This was not our highest percentage, but it was our highest numbers ever,” Imperial County Public Information Officer Linsey Dale said Thursday morning, referring to this year’s election.
Imperial County set a new record for registration for this election cycle, with 84,123 eligible registered voters, and a record for the number of ballots cast at 57,160.
In the 2016 presidential election, Imperial County voters cast 48,895 ballots and registration was at 70,211.
This was unprecedented election in an unprecedented year, and in numerous ways.
On top of the fact that the election occurred amid a worldwide pandemic, the state automatically issued vote-by-mail ballots to all eligible registered voters in California and extended both the certification period and the dates by which counties could continue to receive ballots, as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3.
What’s more, the county’s chief election official, Registrar of Voters Debbie Porter, announced her retirement effective Election Day. While she stayed on in an advisory capacity, the county put together a team comprised of the County Executive Office, Human Resources, the Registrar’s Office, and others to oversee the count.
Preparation for the election, from the training of poll workers and planning for conditions at the polling sites, to the physical count in the weeks afterward, all had to be done in a socially distanced, safe environment during a time when a highly transmissible virus was at hand.
This on top of the record number of ballots returned.
During an election update before the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Dec. 1, County Executive Officer Tony Rouhotas Jr. said this was an election rife with “complex issues.”
“Everyone went above and beyond. … I just can’t commend them enough,” he said.
Dale said during the board presentation that transparency and accuracy were of prime focus. She indicated that an added wrinkle was the lengthier verification required of both mail-in ballots, and even more so for provisional ballots.
This year, according to the breakdown of the final report, just over 29,900 ballots were vote-by-mail — more than 50 percent of all ballots cast — and there were around 7,000 provisional ballots processed.
To an individual, the county board members were complimentary of the process, all acknowledging the heightened scrutiny placed on the count in the wake of accusations of voter fraud across the country by President Donald Trump, and the considerable hurdles presented by COVID.
Supervisor Chairman Luis Plancarte said he was concerned about a hand count and ballots changing hands with coronavirus circulating until he witnessed the setup first-hand.
“Seeing the count going on with staff dressed like they were in an E.R. for protection,” Plancarte said, put him “at ease.”
Meanwhile, Supervisor Ray Castillo commented that he received “calls” from candidates concerned about tampering and the use of equipment from Dominion Voting Systems Inc. of Canada, which Trump and those in his inner circle made unsubstantiated claims regarding their accuracy.
Of Dominion equipment, Dale said “logic and accuracy” testing is conducted before and after each election to ensure the machinery is working properly. She has said in the past that Dominion equipment has been used in Imperial County since 2015 with no prior issues.
How Valley Compared Nationally
On Nov. 7, the election was called in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden, which was immediately disputed by President Donald Trump and his camp. Still, as of Dec. 5, Trump has not “officially” conceded, despite legal challenges and allegations of widespread voter fraud having been largely unproven.
Locally, as of the final numbers, 34,616 votes, or 61.22 percent of the votes cast in the race for president, had been cast for Biden, showing so far that Imperial County is an overwhelmingly “blue” region in an overwhelmingly “blue” state.
Some 20,707 votes, or 36.62 percent, had been cast to re-elect Trump.
The rest holds true down the partisan slate in Imperial County, where Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas won re-election handily over Republican challenger Juan Hidalgo Jr., 63.57 percent to 36.43 percent, respectively.
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, also a Democrat, won re-election over GOP candidate America Figueroa, 63.12 percent to 36.88 percent, respectively.