Berkeley Voting Numbers Still Likely to Exceed State Averages

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Although Tuesday's polls may see a lower voter turnout than in the November 2008 elections, Berkeley voters are still expected to come out in consistently larger numbers than state averages despite a lack of enthusiasm about this year's midterm elections.

With nearly 80,000 Berkeley voters registered for this election - about 6,000 fewer than in 2008 - turnout is expected to remain above the state average, though lower than the city's 2008 turnout of nearly 78 percent, according to the Dave Macdonald, registrar of voters for Alameda County.

In 2008, nearly 75 percent of eligible California voters were registered and roughly 81 percent of eligible voters in Alameda County were registered, according to the California Secretary of State Report of Registration.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said in this year's election, voters seem to lack the high level of passion they had in the 2008 presidential election. According to Macdonald, around 75,000 Berkeley residents voted in 2008.

"When Obama was running they were excited, they were enthused," Bates said. "People were dying to get to the polls."

But so far in this year's midterm election, fewer voters in the county and state have registered to vote. As of Oct. 18, roughly 76 percent of eligible voters in the county are registered while around 73 percent of eligible voters across the state are registered for Tuesday's election, according to the report of registration.

Unlike last year's early voting spree, the county's Registrar of Voters Office saw no lines during early voting hours this weekend.

"At this time in 2008 we had lines of people wrapped around the building coming to vote," Macdonald said. "In 2008, it was about a 45-minute wait."

He added that he expects that this year's voter turnout will be consistent with midterm elections for which the county generally has a roughly 60 percent turnout. In 2006 - the last midterm elections - around 71 percent of eligible voters in the county were registered and the county had a 61.23 percent turnout.

"People will turn out when there's something that really captures their imagination," Macdonald said.

Bates said although he is worried a majority of people across the state will not vote, Berkeley's voter turnout - though it will be lower than usual - will still likely be higher than the state average.

"I believe that people in Berkeley educate themselves and vote very intelligently," Bates said.

While agreeing that Berkeley voters will continue to vote in higher numbers, former mayor Shirley Dean said some residents may lack the enthusiasm to vote this year because they think their vote does not count in the local elections.

She cited the apparent push by some current Berkeley City Council members to unseat District 4 incumbent Jesse Arreguin and District 7 incumbent Kriss Worthington - who have represented a self-described "progressive" minority on the council.

"There is a political machine in Berkeley ... also known as the Bates machine," Dean said. "What the individual does just doesn't count."

Although Dean has endorsed Worthington's opponent George Beier - who is supported by Bates and the majority of the council - she said the question for City Council elections is whether there will be independent voices on the council. If Arreguin and Worthington lose their council seats this year, Dean said voices independent of the "Bates machine" will no longer exist - unless Beier can step up to the challenge.

"It would be healthier for the city if there was something other than the voice of the mayor's camp," she said. "Healthy debate is very important for Berkeley's future ... If it's not there, it will be disastrous."

However, Bates said some Berkeley voters are generally deterred to vote because it is the midterm elections and often, only the "hard-core" voters turn out.

"As many people as possible should vote," Bates said. "Without those votes a lot of times a small majority can carry the day."


Stephanie Baer is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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