Just over 19% of registered Orange County voters had cast ballots by 3 p.m. Tuesday, a notable drop from the 2008 elections, county officials said.
Four years ago, about 35% of the registered voters had voted by 3 p.m. An increase in vote-by-mail ballots this year may have had an effect, officials noted, with 22,159 ballots received in Tuesday's mail.
Despite the lower turnout, enthusiastic voters still livened the polls across the county, including first-time voter Minerva Mendez, 19, and her mother, Felipa Mendez, 51, at a polling station in Santa Ana.
The mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico at age 16, said she valued her right to vote and was proud of her daughter for exercising it. They are Obama supporters.
“He has daughters,” Minerva, a student at Santa Ana High School, said of the president. “He understands. Anything that will help his daughters will help us students as well.”
She said she voted for Proposition 37, which calls for labeling food with genetically modified ingredients, as well as Proposition 30, the tax hike, because of her concern for public education.
“I’m a student, so I vote for anything that benefits a student,” she said. “I make decisions now that will benefit my future.”
Nader Sadighi, 54, an immigrant from Iran, also visited the polls with his daughter, Layala, 24. The two identified Proposition 32 –- which would eliminate deductions from union members’ paychecks for political fundraising -– as the measure that most concerned him.
He voted against it because “we don’t want the Koch Brothers to come over and decide things for us,” he said, referring to energy executives Charles and David Koch, who backed the measure.
Sadighi and his daughter also voiced concerns over the death penalty. “It’s a waste of money,” he said. “They don’t put anybody to death, and we’re paying for that.”
Others also paid particular attention to the many propositions on the California ballot, knowing that at the presidential level, California is solidly blue, and that little drama attends the fate of the Electoral College votes here, said Mindy Halpern, 60, a social worker and former Peace Corps volunteer.
Halpern, who also supported the abolition of the death penalty and opposed Proposition 32, said she believes it is important to vote anyway.
“What’s frustrating is we’re the most populous state, and the election is in the hands of much smaller states,” Halpern said. “There is sometimes that sense of ‘Why bother?’ But you do have to bother, or you abdicate your most important right as a citizen.”
She added, “I have to hope that one person can matter, even though there’s big money out there that puts barriers on our ability to influence the national scene.”