People cast their votes at a polling station set up at the Miami-Dade Government Center on October 18, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Florida residents headed to the polls to cast votes on the first day of early voting in teh midterm elections. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Voting officials expected California's lack of influence in the presidential nomination to keep voters home Tuesday, but as of 8 p.m., more than 27 percent of registered voters in LA County cast their ballots in several hotly-contested races, exceeding usual turnout.
Hours earlier, marquee issues -- such as a cigarette tax, the race for District Attorney and a change in term limits -- seemed to be overshadowed by California's lack of power on the national stage until more complete numbers rolled in.
"It surprised all of us," said Cecilia Gomez Reyes, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RR/CC).
Primary turnout in LA County usually hovers between 20 and 25 percent. LA's turnout in the 2010 California June primary was 23.5 percent, Reyes said.
With the national race locked up by President Barack Obama and presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Registrar of Voters Dean Logan suspected California’s role in the presidential nomination process, or lack thereof, likely kept many voters at home.
Tuesday’s elections operated under a modified closed primary system, which allowed voters who declined to state a political party access to participate in the party’s primary if they approve.
California also tested out a new “top two” primary system, which advances the top vote-getters onto the November election regardless of political affiliation, potentially pitting members of the same party against each other.
Top off an already-tumultuous primary scenario with the unchartered territory of several redistricted areas and Logan said earlier Tuesday that the odds seemed to be stacked against droves of voters lining up at the polls.
“Some may not be making a connection to the primary as they have in the past,” Logan said.
Updated information on voter turnout seemed incongruous with the scenario in many polling places across the Southland. Anaheim, West Hollywood and Studio City, to name a few, were empty for most of the day, with at most a handful of voters inside each.
Voters and poll workers on the ground reported no lines in their polling places.
Voting officials in LA County seemed unaffected by the initially low turnout, calling a third of registered voters casting their ballots "usual" for a primary election.
“It’s hard to what’s normal in a primary because the state has changed its primary significantly every couple years,” Logan said. “The closest it compares to is 2006, but that was not a presidential year.”
Still, supporters of representatives Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, battling in a bitter and expensive race to represent a portion of the San Fernando Valley, were out in force Tuesday.
Berman occupied street corners in Studio City waving signs for their candidate; while volunteers for Sherman called Democratic houses, urging voters to get to the polls.
As of 5 p.m., almost 20 percent of the 4.5 million registered voters in LA County showed up to the polls. Those figures are based on hourly samples from 30 precincts in the county.
While this year’s 5 p.m. turnout figures surpassed the 2010 primary by nearly 4 percent, the county registrar said turnout was "definitely low" at that time.
"For the pollworkers, the day has gone probably slower than in a presidential election cycle," Logan said earlier Tuesday.
By 7 p.m., turnout was only slightly higher than it was two hours prior, with nearly 24 percent of LA County voters making it to the polls.
Foot traffic at polling places picked up around 5 p.m. and officials expected more voters to turn out from then until the polls closed at 8 p.m., the historically busiest three hours of the election.