Southern California voter turnout up in 2016 — except in LA

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The final tally is in: voter turnout improved from 2012 across much of Southern California this year.

The glaring exception? Los Angeles County and its 5.3 million registered voters. Turnout in the county came in at 67.5 percent of registered voters — the lowest showing in a presidential election in two decades.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla certified the state's votes Friday afternoon, closing the books on the 2016 California election and providing a look at voter engagement across the state.

As a whole, California posted a 75.3 percent turnout, with 14.6 million Californians casting a ballot.

Southern California presented a mixed picture. Among five Southern California counties, only Los Angeles saw turnout fall from 2012 to 2016. It dipped from 68 percent four years ago to 67.5 percent.

Races at all levels may have contributed to that, from the presidential contest on down.

"It was especially negative, it was especially depressing, it was especially uninspiring," said Loyola Law School's Jessica Levinson of the 2016 election. She said the presidential campaign didn't excite voters, and that the outcome in California was never in doubt.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was an early frontrunner in one of the bluest states in the country and ultimately drew 8.8 million votes to GOP President-elect Donald Trump's 4.5 million.

Local races and ballot measures didn't set L.A. County voters on fire, either. "Our numbers are fairly dismal," Levinson said.

The picture was different in Orange County, which emerged as a bright spot for voter turnout, with 80.7 percent of registered voters casting a ballot there.

"I'm really happy to see that we had 80 percent plus of our voters turn out," Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley told KPCC. Kelley pointed to two factors driving the strong showing: lean voter rolls and energy in local races.

Kelley said his office has been proactive in removing voters from the rolls who are no longer eligible in the county, often people who have moved away. Those extra voters can drag down turnout figures.

He also thought local contests, including races for state senator, county supervisor and Anaheim City Council, drove voters to the polls. "All of that combined, is why you see historic turnout for us," Kelley said.

The results in Orange County beat 2012's turnout by a whopping 14 percentage points. And while Los Angeles County posted its worst turnout showing of the new millennium, Orange County posted its strongest in decades. Kelley said Orange County had not seen such a high turnout figure since the 1970s.

Turnout may have played a factor in flipping the county to the Democratic column for the first time since the 1930s. Demographic shifts in Orange County, which is increasingly Latino and Asian, figure into the area's changing political climate as well.

At the same time, Orange County remains in transition: voters helped return several Republicans to office, including Vista Congressman Darrell Issa, a frequent critic of President Obama and Trump supporter.

Other counties in Southern California pushed past the turnout marks set in 2008. The Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino posted nearly identical turnout figures — 75.5 and 75.8 percent, respectively. The neighboring counties have similar trends in recent elections, both seeing turnout dip from 2008 to 2012, but rebound this year.

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Once again, Ventura County posted the highest turnout figure in the region, with 82 percent of voters casting a ballot this year.

Ventura voters have showed up in impressive numbers for five elections running, but the county has far fewer voters than its neighbors to the south and east. Ventura had 550,625 registered voters this year. The next smallest, San Bernardino, has 888,019.

Los Angeles has more registered voters than any other county in the nation, with 5,253,427.

Jessica Levinson said there is no silver bullet for L.A.'s turnout woes, with voters this year failing to show up in big numbers even with issues like marijuana legalization, the death penalty and gun control on the ballot. "Our neighbors, comparatively, did think it was important to show up," she said.

Of California's 58 counties, only Fresno and Kings posted a lower turnout than Los Angeles.

Marin and Sonoma counties had the highest voter turnout, at 89 and 86.8 percent, respectively.

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