Blue­wave, if it even ex­ists, is slow to form in Cal­i­for­nia

The Mercury News Weekend - - OPINION - Ed Clen­daniel Ed Clen­daniel is edi­tor of The Mer­cury News Ed­i­to­rial Pages. Email him at eclen­daniel@ba­yare­anews­group.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @EdClen­daniel.

Like the un­for­get­table char­ac­ter Vizzini in Rob Reiner’s clas­sic film “The Princess Bride,” I’ve found my­self us­ing the word “in­con­ceiv­able” a lot of late. The last time I fell vic­tim to this curse was 2016. Only in the days af­ter that elec­tion it fre­quently came with a few choice words that aren’t suited for a fam­ily news­pa­per. And here we are again, days away from an­other crit­i­cal elec­tion.

I used the word no less than three times Tues­day while talk­ing to Paul Mitchell of Po­lit­i­cal Data Inc., a firm that col­lects voter data from Cal­i­for­nia’s 58 coun­ties. He re­layed that the data he’s re­ceiv­ing from mailed-in bal­lots shows no ev­i­dence of a blue-wave elec­tion in Cal­i­for­nia. More­over, if there is any sign of in­creased voter en­thu­si­asm, it’s on the Re­pub­li­can side of things.

Silly me. I’ve been think­ing for months that if there was ever go­ing to be a midterm elec­tion with a ma­jor uptick in voter turnout, it would be 2018.

Of course, it’s still pos­si­ble. But all the early ev­i­dence points to what Mitchell terms “a typ­i­cal elec­tion.” Which is to say low voter turnout. The last Cal­i­for­nia midterm elec­tion in 2014 saw a record low voter turnout for a gen­eral elec­tion of only 42 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers.

If we were go­ing to see a blue wave this cy­cle,” Mitchell said, “we would ex­pect to see it re­flected in the bal­lots that have been mailed in early vot­ing.”

About 35 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s mail-in bal­lots have al­ready been re­turned. Re­pub­li­cans rep­re­sent about 25 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers. But 31 per- cent of the mail-in bal­lots re­ceived to date are from GOP vot­ers. Democrats ac­count for about 44 per­cent of the state’s vot­ers, but only 42 per­cent of the mail-in bal­lots are from Democrats. Per­haps, as Mitchell quips, Re­pub­li­cans are just bet­ter at know­ing where they keep the stamps in their homes.

Turnout mat­ters. Es­pe­cially so this year in Cal­i­for­nia, which is be­ing termed a marquee year for state pol­i­tics. Democrats need to flip 23 seats na­tion­ally to take con­trol of the House, and at least six of the most com­pet­i­tive House races are in the Golden State. But if Democrats need a mon­ster turnout to make that hap­pen, the early re­turns show they’re likely to be dis­ap­pointed.

The low turnout is es­pe­cially notable in two ar­eas in which Democrats were ex­pect­ing to have an ad­van­tage: Lati­nos and young vot­ers.

Lati­nos’ have re­turned 12 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s mail-in bal­lots, de­spite be­ing 25 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers in the state. Young peo­ple ages 18-34 also ac­count for about 25 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers, but only 10 per­cent of the mail-in bal­lots to date.

Mitchell be­lieves it’s be­cause Lati­nos and young vot­ers don’t nec­es­sar­ily. live where they are reg­is­tered to vote.

“The U.S. Cen­sus Bureau did a re­port show­ing that peo­ple aged 18-28 move on aver­age four times a year over a 10-year pe­riod,” said Mitchell. “Lati­nos move even more, five times on aver­age over 10 years.”

What it means for the elec­tion is they may not be reg­is­tered to vote near where they live. They also may not re­ceive a voter’s guide at their cur­rent ad­dress, mak­ing it harder to pre­pare to vote.

I know the feel­ing. I have voted, with­out fail, in ev­ery elec­tion since I was 26 years old. But for a four-year pe­riod while I was in my 20s, I moved eight times, I didn’t vote in sev­eral elec­tions, even though I was work­ing at a news­pa­per and rea­son­ably well-in­formed on the is­sues. I failed to re-reg­is­ter in the city where I had moved and didn’t want to drive an hour back to my home­town to cast my vote.

I even re­mem­ber us­ing that tired phrase, “One vote doesn’t re­ally mat­ter.”

But it does. I’m a big be­liever in the law of ac­cu­mu­la­tion, which posits that ev­ery great achieve­ment is an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of hun­dreds of small ef­forts that oth­ers of­ten fail to see or ap­pre­ci­ate.

One in­di­vid­ual vote rarely makes a dif­fer­ence. But the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of those peo­ple us­ing it as an ex­cuse not to vote rep­re­sents a huge num­ber, per­haps as high as the hun­dreds of thou­sands.

It’s a pretty safe bet that most read­ers who take the time to reg­u­larly read our opin­ion pages are also peo­ple who rou­tinely vote in elec­tions. So the chal­lenge for those peo­ple is to en­tice those around them to cast their bal­lots on or be­fore Nov. 6. Mon­day was the last day to for­mally reg­is­ter to vote in Cal­i­for­nia, but any el­i­gi­ble in­di­vid­ual may still con­di­tion­ally reg­is­ter to vote and cast a pro­vi­sional bal­lot by vis­it­ing their county elec­tions of­fi­cial. As for me, not vote? In­con­ceiv­able.

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