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Predicting voter turnout in off-year statewide elections is notoriously risky, but if recent history teaches anything, it’s that Mono County will pack the polls in the June 3 primary elections.
In the last off-year statewide election, in 2010, a full 70.7 percent of Mono County’s registered voters turned out to vote. It was the fourth-largest percentage showing among counties in California, state election records show.
Statewide, only 33 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2010.
Mono County’s numbers were big that year, but on the whole, the election was not nearly as robust as the last general election, in 2012, when 87.3 percent of registered voters in Mono County cast their ballots in the Presidential Election.
Only Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, had a better turnout in 2012, with 87.37 percent, according to Lynda Roberts, the Mono County Registrar of Voters.
Roberts, who has arguably the most important task of all on Election Day—she hand-delivers Mammoth vote totals to Bridgeport—would not hazard a guess as to what the voter numbers might be this year.
Influences such as weather and the lack of interesting races can swing voter turnout numbers wildly from one election to the next. Also, statewide primary races can affect the turnout, as well as proposition initiatives.
What the weather might be on June 3 is very much up in the air, but Mono County has no lack of compelling races this time, both at the county and town levels.
In the county, two seats on the Board of Supervisors are up for grabs, both of them Mammoth districts.
In District 1, incumbent Larry Johnston faces Bill Sauser in a rematch of their 2012 race.
In that race, Johnston won by just five votes.
In District 5, three candidates—Stacy Corless, Greg Eckert and Kirk Stapp—are running for a seat that for 16 years was occupied by outgoing supervisor Byng Hunt.
Also in this year’s election is the increasingly incendiary race for Mono County Sheriff.
The current sheriff, Ralph Obenberger of June Lake, was appointed to the spot in the wake of Rick Scholl’s resignation. He is facing a challenge by former deputy Ingrid Braun, a longtime Los Angeles Police Department officer who currently is serving as a reserve officer in the Mammoth Lakes Police Department.
Braun was let go from the Sheriff’s Department by Obenberger just days before her probationary period was to end. In their campaigns this spring, neither has indicated exactly why she was dismissed.
Finally, Mono County will elect a new assessor.
Robert Musil, also an appointment by the Board of Supervisors, currently holds that seat. He is facing a challenge by Barry Beck, who has served in the assessor’s office for 11 years.
Aside from the race for sheriff, it is not likely that the county offices will match the free-for-all currently taking place in the Mammoth Town Council races, which have eight untested candidates vying for three open seats—a “New Majority” on the five-seat council.
Roberts said she has taken a close look at all the polling places throughout the county, and all are handicapped accessible. She said she anticipated no problems in handling the turnout.
Polling stations, she said, will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
Given the hour-long drive to Bridgeport from Mammoth and other outlying communities, results probably will not be counted until about 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. on Election Night, Roberts said.
However, in a new twist this year, she said the results from absentee ballots would be made available to the public as soon as the polls close.
How those results might serve as a litmus test is anybody’s guess, given the vagaries of Election Day factors.
In a breakdown of off-year voter turnout numbers, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy, low turnout is most pronounced in primary elections, off-year elections for state legislators, and local elections.
For example, a 2013 study of 340 mayoral elections in 144 U.S. cities from 1996-2012 found that voter turnout in those cities averaged 25.8 percent.
In many cities, mayors have been elected with single-digit turnout. For example, turnout in Dallas’ 1999 mayoral election was a mere 5 percent.
Young people are much less likely to vote than older ones. From 1972 to 2012, citizens 18-29 years old turned out at a rate 15 to 20 points lower than citizens 30 years and older.
Mammoth and Mono County historically have bucked all those trends.
In the 2010 off-year primary, high-profile races in North County, for two embattled incumbents for the Eastern Sierra Unified School District, and a District 4 Supervisor race between Tim Fesko and Tim Hansen, helped push the turnout to 73 percent in those precincts.
In Mammoth, 64 percent of registered voters turned out, despite no hotly contested town-wide races at all.
The totals were indicative of how unusual Mono County’s voters are and the degree to which every vote counts.
Skeptics only need to ask Bill Sauser about that, or Larry Johnston.