San Diego officials announce record voter registration for recall

Registrar anticipates between 200,000-250,000 mail-in ballots could be submitted on Sept. 14 alone

Polling Location at County Registrar of Voters

Ingrid Estrella

San Diegans arrive to cast their votes at the County Registrar of Voters on Election Day in November 2021. Photo by Ingrid Estrella/City Times Media

Jakob McWhinney and Philip Salata

According to the San Diego Registrar of Voters, a record number of San Diegans – 1.96 million – are registered to vote in today’s gubernatorial election.

 In fact, mail-in ballots sent to voters for today’s recall increased from last year’s presidential election by around 33,000, but according to data released by the California Secretary of State, only about 42% of those ballots were returned by Sept. 13.

“Those are being processed to be ready for count on election night,” Interim Registrar of Voters Cynthia Paes told ABC 10 News on Sept. 12.

Voter casts their ballot
Keith Galligan casts his vote in the recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom in person at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters on Sept. 14. Photo by Jakob McWhinney/City Times Media

The total at this point isn’t necessarily a surprise, as voter turnout is generally lower during statewide elections, as compared to federal elections.

November’s presidential elections saw 73% of mail-in ballots returned, according to data released by the California Secretary of State.

 According to information released by the San Diego Registrar of Voters, it anticipates between 200,000 and 250,000 mail ballots could be dropped off at county collection sites or picked up by postal workers today alone.

Jo Birdsell, a 66-year-old site manager for the polling station in Little Italy, said same-day voter turnout had been robust.

“A lot of people are voting in person today,” Birdsell said. “We’ve been open for four days. The first day we had 12 voters, then 17, then 53, and now we are already over 100.” 

Vincent Teran Jr., a San Diegan who cast his ballot in person at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, said the process was simple and quick.

“It was very, very easy,” Teran Jr. said. “Idiot-proof.”

COVID-19 sent a shockwave through elections systems nationally, with many officials worried that the pandemic would suppress voter turnout during a highly contested presidential election.

It even inspired some voters to join the recall movement against Governor Gavin Newsom.

Natalie Hays of Mission Valley was one such voter.

“I was not so nervous when they did the ‘15 days to slow the spread,’ but once the (COVID-19 lockdown) went past that date and I could see that there was going to be more loss of freedoms I signed up (for) the recall,” Hays said.

Voting Sticker received after casting ballot
Keith Galligan affixes his “I Voted” sticker after casting his ballot in the gubernatorial recall election on Sept. 14. Photo by Jakob McWhinney/City Times Media

In June, Newsom, with the support of a number of Republican lawmakers, signed Assembly Bill 860 into law, which required county election officials to send mail-in ballots to all registered California voters.

The results were immediate, as the number of mail-in ballots distributed and returned in San Diego County increased dramatically.

“Even going into the March primary in 2020, nearly 75 percent of registered voters were vote-by-mail already and now nearly 80 percent are permanent vote by mail,” Paes said.

And because ballots are allowed to arrive up to seven days after election day, county officials project that it may take days to finalize the count.

The first set of unofficial results will appear shortly after 8 p.m., and will include mail-in ballots received prior to Election Day and votes cast at early voting locations between Sept. 11-13.

The Registrar of Voters projects the next release of unofficial results will occur on Sept. 16, sometime after 5 p.m.

City Times Media multimedia journalist Ingrid Estrella contributed to this report.