Californians showed up to vote in historic numbers this fall, with the state likely to post its highest turnout for a non-presidential election in nearly four decades.
Turnout is expected to be around 64 percent this year among those who were registered to vote — the highest rate in a midterm general election since 1982, when 69.8 percent of registered voters showed up to decide hotly contested races for governor and U.S. Senate.
And as the final votes are tallied in the next few days, the results will show about half of those eligible to vote cast a ballot in November. That could be the highest percentage in a non-presidential election since Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term as governor in 1970.
Resistance to President Donald Trump’s policies was likely responsible for the uptick this year, according to Mindy Romero, founding director of the California Civic Engagement Project at USC.
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“In our state, we saw a lot of young people and a lot of people of color expressing not only a concern about Trump but also framing these midterms and voting as important,” Romero said. “We know from historical patterns that when you have higher-than-normal turnout, that typically means you’re getting higher turnout from under-represented groups like young people and people of color.”
Secretary of State Alex Padilla said the emerging numbers “show that democracy is strong in California.”
Lawmakers have made it easier for people to vote. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been automatically registered since the state’s new Motor Voter program launched in April, though the program has come under fire recently for thousands of registration errors that occurred when customers visited the Department of Motor Vehicles.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday called the state’s voting policies “bizarre,” while Padilla defended the state, saying in a statement he is “proud that California is leading the way with reforms to make it easier for voters to cast their ballots and have their votes counted.”
More than 25 million Californians were eligible to vote in the election, and nearly 19.7 million of them were registered — both record-highs. About 12.7 million Californians are expected to have voted in the November elections — the highest number in a general election midterm cycle in state history. Nearly 1.9 million additional voters registered since the last gubernatorial election in 2014.
Though it’s too early to know who exactly showed up to the polls, Romero said enthusiasm among young and minority voters will likely be very high. She also cited partisan get-out-the-vote efforts and outside campaign spending as motivating forces.
Billionaire anti-Trump activist Tom Steyer spent about $6 million in California through his advocacy organizations, most of which went toward turning out young people. He said his effort to spark enthusiasm was successful.
“Youth turnout had a dramatic impact on this election,” Steyer said.
Toward the end of the election, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent nearly $9 million on ads supporting two Democratic congressional candidates in Southern California.
Democrats appear to have swept statewide contests, picked up seven congressional seats and achieved their largest advantages in the Capitol in decades.
“This is not high tide for Democrats yet,” said Paul Mitchell, political consultant and vice president of the bipartisan voter data firm Political Data Inc. “If we have this kind of environment with 12 to 13 percent more voters in 2020, Republican chances to rebuild don’t come until the next election in 2022.”