The voter turnout in Burbank’s primary election on Tuesday dropped by 6% from what had already been a low 20.4% participation rate two years ago, which political observers attributed to apathy and a lack of hot-button issues.
Just 8,106 ballots were received by the Burbank city clerk’s office by 7 p.m. Tuesday, compared with 10,990 during the previous primary nominating election in 2009 — making for the lowest showing since implementing the mail-in ballot system in 2005, according to election returns.
The next lowest voter turnout for Burbank in the past 10 years was during the April 2003 general election with 9,059 ballots, or 17.4% of registered voters in the city — the election just before the switch to an all mail-in system.
Incumbent Councilman Gary Bric retained his seat outright after the votes were tallied Tuesday night after earning 57.5% of the votes — or 4,642 votes, compared with 4,277 during the primary four years ago.
“There is definitely a change in the atmosphere,” said Bric, who arrived at City Hall a few minutes after his win. “It’s a shame that more people don’t take an interest in this election.”
The mail-in election forced candidates to peak early with campaign efforts in order to reach voters who chose to vote early rather than getting their “I voted” sticker on election day.
“A lot of people just like the feeling of physically turning in their ballot on election day,” said City Clerk Margarita Campos. “We have a Saturday drop-off, and City Hall is open all day to accommodate those voters.”
Campos even personally drove to a voter’s home last week after she sent in her ballot without a signature and could not make it down to Olive Avenue before election day.
Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic strategist who has worked on many statewide campaigns, said mail-in ballots extend the number of heightened campaigning days for candidates.
“Historically, you would talk to voters very close to election day, and you gear your message to getting votes on one election day,” he said. “With this system, candidates are communicating over a longer period of time.”
He was not surprised by the low turnout in Burbank, Sragow added.
“Unless there’s something very important to voters personally, or a really hot, controversial local issue, people are not likely to turn out,” he said.
Election reminders were sent to residential mailboxes beginning in January, and were sent home in the backpacks of schoolchildren. Notices in English, Spanish, Korean and Armenian were placed in various publications, utility bills and other formats.
Campos said the low number of candidates may have had an effect on the ballot numbers.
“We only had four candidates campaigning citywide, compared to 14 in past elections,” she said. “It made sense that they will not reach as many people to motivate them to vote.”
California’s lack of a standard election day may also contribute to the problem, Sragow added.
“Even if the issues are important, most Americans think of elections in November every even-number year,” he said. “They generally know there will be a primary, but those keep moving around, and with all of these special elections, the local ones get lost in the mix.”