Voter turnout looking low in primary election

Number of ballots returned down by about 12 percent from last primary election

With roughly 22 percent of mail-in-ballots returned, San Francisco’s voter turnout was looking low going into Tuesday’s primary election — lower than at the same time during the 2016 primary by roughly 12 percent, according to Department of Election’s figures.

Fewer than 86,000 mail-in ballots had been returned as of Monday night, which is roughly 15,000 fewer votes than had been submitted the day before 2016’s primary.

But this year nearly 90,000 more mail-in-ballots were issued than in 2016, making the drop in mail-in ballots returned even more noteworthy.

Department of Elections Director John Arntz said he would have expected at least 110,000 ballots to have been returned by now.

“Election day is going to set the turnout,” said Arntz, who said he expects 50,000 to 70,000 mail-in ballots to be turned in to polling stations on election.

So far 4,500 people have showed up to vote in person, including at least 800 on Monday alone.

With the Democratic presidential candidate field shrinking rapidly, some voters may have been waiting for a clearer image of the field before casting their votes, according to long-time San Francisco Democratic political strategist Jim Stearns.

“People are seeing the obvious candidates are dropping out,” said Stearns. “People are holding on to their ballots.”

In addition, a new California law moved this year’s primary from June to March, leading some to fear voters could miss the deadline.

Additional rule changes also mean people registered with a political party other than that of their candidate of choice, or people registered as independents, would have needed to request the appropriate ballot if they wished to vote by mail.

“The department did all they could to advertise the change,” said Matthew Selby, a clerk with the Department of Elections.

The 2016 primary saw 56.5 percent of registered voters turn out citywide. The most recent election in November 2019 had 41.6 percent turnout. San Francisco has just over 504,000 registered voters.

So far, Districts 7 and 8, which include the Lakeshore, Twin Peaks, Noe Valley and Castro neighborhoods, lead the way with nearly 25 percent of ballots returned. District 10, which includes much of the Bayview, trails with less than 20 percent returned.

Bay Area Newssan francisco news

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

School board members Gabriela Lopez (left) and Alison Collins (right) say they have been the subject of frequent hateful, racist and sexist attacks during their time on the school board. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F Examiner)
Angered by Lowell decision, SFUSD grad targets school board members with violent imagery

Facebook page depicts two women of color on board with swastikas and x-marks on their faces

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, a former school board member, said it was ‘ridiculous’ that the school district did not yet have a plan to reopen. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Supervisors demand SFUSD set a timeline for reopening

Pressure grows on district to resume in-person learning as The City’s COVID-19 case count goes down

“Tenet,” the new Christopher Nolan film starring John David Washington, is showing at the drive-in in Concord. (Courtesy Warner Bros.)
Drive-ins are popping up all over the Bay Area

By Amelia Williams Bay City News Foundation Anyone else catch the “Grease”… Continue reading

The San Francisco International Arts Festival will present performances this weekend outdoors at Fort Mason, including on the Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF International Arts Festival wins health department approval for weekend performances

Rules allow no more than 50 people at outdoor Fort Mason performances

In this handout image provided by the California Department of Corrections, convicted murderer Scott Peterson poses for a mug shot March 17, 2005 in San Quentin, California. Judge Alfred A. Delucchi sentenced Peterson to death March 16 for murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn child. (California Department of Corrections via Getty Images/TNS)
Prosecutors to retry penalty phase of Scott Peterson trial

2003 discovery of Laci Peterson’s body led to sensational high-profile murder trial of husband

Most Read