A lot more people in Stanislaus County voted in Tuesday's primary election than in June 2014 during the last nonpresidential primary election, and one political expert points to more contested races, the rise of social media and President Trump as among the reasons.
About 26 percent of registered voters cast ballots in June 2014, but the turnout from Tuesday could be about 10 percentage points higher. The Sacramento Bee has reported a similar trend statewide.
The county election office reported Wednesday it had counted 47,651 ballots and had more than 38,575 mail ballots to process and count. If all those remaining ballots are valid, that's a turnout rate of 36 percent among the 236,374 registered voters in the county.
And there could be more to count. The office reported it also had about 3,000 provisional ballots and more than 650 miscellaneous ballots to review. And it would count mail ballots it received through Friday as long as they were postmarked Tuesday, as required by state law.
Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan said Friday her office would release an update of the vote in the afternoon, and said it would have the results for all of Modesto and much of the rest of the county.
That update was not available by press time, but it could provide clarity in some close races. The closest was for U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham's seat. The Turlock Republican had nearly 38 percent of the vote, but the question was whom he would face in a November runoff election.
Democrat Josh Harder was in second place with 15.7 percent of the vote, and Republican Ted Howze was in third place with 14.4 percent. But as of Wednesday, Howze trailed Harder by only 850 votes among more than 65,000 cast and with many thousands more to be counted.
Denham's 10th Congressional District covers Stanislaus County and the southern part of San Joaquin County.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager easily won re-election with nearly 71 percent of the vote in the June 2014 primary against one opponent, defense attorney Frank Carson. But Tuesday was a different story as she faced three challengers.
Fladager, who is seeking a fourth term, had 20,540 votes, or 48 percent, as of Wednesday. Friday's update could push her over 50 percent and let her avoid a runoff or strengthen the position of her three opponents.
Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne, who was in second place with 9,915 votes, or 23 percent of the vote, expressed some hope.
“While the chances of a different outcome are not technically zero, they are remote,” he said Friday before the updated count. “The live voters were substantially more anti-incumbent than the early (mail) voters. This is a very good sign for my campaign.”
Modesto immigration law and criminal defense attorney Patrick Kolasinski had 15 percent of the vote, and Modesto criminal defense attorney Steven O'Connor had nearly 14 percent.
"Once we found out that over 40,000 of the ballots remained uncounted, everything changed,” Kolasinski said Friday morning. “I am now sitting on pins and needles again, waiting to hear what the actual results are.”
“I was surprised that there are so many votes uncounted,” O’Connor said. “(But) at this point, I think it is unlikely that I will be in second place.”
Turlock political consultant Mike Lynch said there were several reasons for the higher turnout in Stanislaus County.
He said unlike June 2014, there were many contested state and local races on the ballot. The local races included sheriff, district attorney, county superintendent of schools and two seats on the county Board of Supervisors. And in three of the races — sheriff, superintendent and one supervisor — the incumbent did not run for re-election.
Lynch also said social media lets campaigns target their messages to voters.
And then there is Trump. The president "has galvanized enormous opposition to what he has said and done," Lynch said. "And at the same time, his base is galvanized in support of him."