If you look at Stanislaus County's ballot for Election Day on Tuesday, you might notice something missing: a compelling reason to go to the polls.
Although there are City Council, school board and irrigation district board races, some of them contested, this year's campaign season lacks a divisive ballot measure or a bruising race that might drive people to vote.
So, how low might turnout go? Most assuredly, lower than the November 2006 turnout of almost 51 percent in Stanislaus County. That ballot had local school bonds and sales tax measures, mayoral and City Council races in several cities, supervisorial races and a contest for county superintendent of schools, in addition to hotly contested statewide races.
In November 2005, 43 percent of registered voters cast ballots for races largely similar to those to be decided this year. But there's a key difference: That race had eight statewide propositions, some of which were tied to Gov. Schwarzenegger's bid to remake state government.
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The best indicator might be 2003, when 25.26 percent, or a little more than a quarter of all registered voters in the county at that time, bothered to vote. And that election had some debated ballot measures and a contested mayoral race in Modesto.
Remember, the number of registered voters is a subset of all the people eligible to vote.
As of Sept. 7, there were 319,939 people eligible to register to vote in Stanislaus County, but 208,553 were registered, according to the California Secretary of State's office.
Some registered voters in the county have nary a fire or water board member to vote for, so they won't have a ballot to cast. That puts the number of potential voters for Tuesday's races at 188,957, according to Lee Lundrigan, the county's registrar of voters.
If a quarter of that number vote Tuesday, it'll be about 47,200 people, or less than one-tenth of the county's Jan. 1 population, according to the California Department of Finance. The winners in contested races, obviously, will have the support of an even smaller group.
If the races are snoozers and turnout is low, that doesn't make those elected less important. And by default, who votes becomes more important.
By most estimates, California voters in elections with low turnout have a few characteristics in common: They tend to be over 45 years old, white, with college degrees and make more money than the average adult.
Compare that profile with Stanislaus County's demographics, according to the 2006 American Community Survey, which is the U.S. Census Bureau's effort to provide relevant data between the comprehensive counts every 10 years.
That survey estimated that 364,539 people of voting age in Stanislaus County could legally vote. Of that number, an estimated 78,285 had Latino background, or about 21 percent of all people eligible to vote, though not necessarily registered to do so.
Further, 39 percent of all adults of voting age in the county are between the ages of 18 and 45, and 15 percent of all residents have a bachelor's degree or higher.
The median household income in Stanislaus County, according to the 2006 survey, is $48,566.
Where the disparity between who votes and the population at large shows up is reflected in policy. A property tax for a school bond will affect high-income voters more than those with low income, so high-income voters may be more likely to vote against such a measure.
To be elected, a minority candidate might count on support from other minorities, so low turnout could mean lost votes.
The importance of Tuesday's results might not be felt for months or years. A new city council member eventually might steer a city in a different direction or springboard into higher office.
But remember this: Those elected will decide and enact laws, policies and other matters of government for everyone, whether they voted or not.
Ben van der Meer's On Politics column will appear each Monday in The Bee.
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2331.