Apathy at the polls

Early returns suggest record-low turnout but good news for Chico's county supervisors

The vote center at Silver Dollar Fairgrounds draws sparse traffic Tuesday (June 7) for California's primary election. (Photo by Howard Hardee)

Early returns suggest that participation of Butte County voters in the primary election Tuesday (June 7) was paltry, and potentially historically low. A midnight update on the Butte County Clerk-Recorder’s website, about four hours after polls closed, showed only 16,389 ballots tallied out of 123,469 registered voters—a turnout rate of about 13 percent.

Election workers were still counting ballots Wednesday, however, and those figures will likely rise significantly. The clerk-recorder’s office expects to have an update by 5 p.m.

Anecdotally, the vote center at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds saw a trickle of voters in the days leading up to Tuesday’s primary, and traffic picked up only modestly on Election Day.

Participation is usually low during primary elections without a presidential race, but the meager early voter turnout in recent days led to speculation that the state could break its record for lowest voter turnout: 25 percent in 2014. On Wednesday at noon, only about 19 percent of registered California voters had returned ballots, according to a ballot tracker by Political Data Intelligence, though the tally was incomplete.

Nearly 35 percent of Butte County voters participated in the June 2014 primary, according to county records, and some 48 percent cast ballots in June 2018.

Unofficial results on the clerk-recorder’s website showed Butte County Supervisor Debra Lucero leading her challenger, Chico police officer Peter Durfee, 51.7 percent to 43.1 percent, in the new-look District 2, which was redrawn from a compact, urban district in central Chico to a largely suburban and agricultural district. Lucero maintained a lead of a few hundred votes.

In District 3, Lucero’s fellow Supervisor Tami Ritter was easily fending off challenger Mary Murphy-Waldorf, 72.4 percent to 27.5 percent. Lucero and Ritter winning reelection would preserve the current composition of the board of supervisors — a 3-2 conservative majority — for at least another two years.

Alyssa Douglas was leading in the Butte County Assessor’s race with 61 percent of the vote. Her opponents, Randall Stone (former Chico mayor) and Michael Howard, were drawing 20.6 percent and 18.3 percent, respectively.

The Butte County voters who did show up were supporting Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in statewide races, including for Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, each of whom will advance to the general election in November.

In the race for District 1 U.S. Representative, locals were mostly favoring Max Steiner, the Democratic challenger to five-term Republican Doug LaMalfa, 50 percent to 41 percent, though LaMalfa held an 18-point lead districtwide.

County voters were split between Republican incumbent James Gallagher (50.3 percent) and Democratic challenger David Leon Zink (49.7 percent) in Assembly District 3, but districtwide, Gallagher’s edge was nearly 25 points.

In more obvious news, Keaton Denlay, the chosen successor to longtime Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs, cruised to an unopposed victory on Tuesday—as did Auditor-Controller Graciela Cano Gutierrez, District Attorney Mike Ramsey, Sheriff-Coroner Kory Honea, Superintendent of Schools Mary Sakuma and Treasurer-Tax Collector Troy Kidd.


  1. Participated in running a Voter Center and experienced another lower than expected turnout. The spirit of participating in our voting rights appears of little interest to some. I remember a time when people were anxious to vote, felt it a true privilege, had voting as a top priority as a citizen of this great Country and when people studied the people and items thoroughly. It was when people were voting in a consciously, individualized and unbiased manner. It was when we had open, honest and
    friendly dialogue. I wonder if this was the case during our latest voting? opportunities.

  2. Low turnout. Bummer! Of course, many students are away for the summer, but surely the town returned to its sleepy, rural haven-self, right? (Or, at least, it used to.)

    Today, the Chico metro has a population of 221,578 people, according to USA.com. But once, relatively speaking, hardly anyone was out and about in the 100-plus-degree summer Chico heat until sunset. Still, you could pick ripening figs, sip cool water from a canteen, and laze away the summer day practically alone. (Is the swimming hole with the rock in the middle of Chico Creek still there?) For one brief, wonderful summer, Salmon Hole was always available to sun, swim, and watch trout feed, especially when the shadows fell.

    I went “Goin’ Chico” in Upper Park by voting my conscience in the 1970s. Oh, sure, I was an outsider from Iowa, but I had a right to representation, and I exercised it. From that day forward, I have been politically aware and cast my vote against Chuck Grassley on June 7, 2022. The progressive in the Iowa race, Abby Finkenauer, could have beat him with her energy alone, and many voted for her. Iowa is a small state, but she got 50,000 votes (give or take), and if it hadn’t been for me, she would have only gotten 49,999 votes.

    Yes, I know it sometimes seems pointless, but think about what might have happened if everyone had voted? Not only here but in California. It mattered when I hung out on that rock, and it still does. I became a Forever Chicoan when I flipped a burning cigarette butt into Chico Creek one afternoon. I felt safe knowing it was out, but as I watched it drift away, a trout ate it, and I have never forgotten it.

    Actions matter, not only in the biosphere but at the ballot box. If I want change, I watch my actions outdoors and vote. As a Chico State student, I voted for Tom Hayden to beat John Tunney. I voted for Jerry Brown to be the Democratic presidential nominee, and in 2022 Iowa, I voted to find someone who could beat Chuck Grassley. My candidate didn’t win … but I voted. And you should, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.