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in a presidential election year, voter turnout was relatively high for all down-ballot races across North County. Turnout was generally lower for the lowest races and in inland cities. File photo
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North County voter turnout differs by office, geography

REGION — Characteristically higher voter turnout in the Nov. 3 presidential election appears to have drastically boosted turnout for down-ballot local races. Still, for the most part, fewer North County citizens cast votes in lower races than in higher ones.

As of Tuesday, 82% of registered voters countywide had cast a ballot, with about 33,000 outstanding ballots remaining. That proportion is in the same ballpark as recent presidential election years, according to historical data from the county registrar — on par with 2008 and 2016, though 5 to 6 percentage points higher than 2004 and 2012.

The Coast News estimated turnout for each election for each precinct, combining data from the registrar and SANDAG, a regional agency. In data published online, the registrar reports only overall turnout by precinct.

But those figures don’t account for the fact that everyone who turns in a ballot doesn’t necessarily vote for everything on that ballot. We know our computations aren’t perfect, especially for very sparsely populated precincts, which we excluded from the data maps accompanying this article. But we think they’re good enough to establish general trends.

Voter turnout map
In a presidential election year, voter turnout was relatively high for all down-ballot races across North County. Throughout turnout was generally lower for the lowest races and in inland cities. Sources: County Registrar of Voters, SANDAG, Esri. Graphic by Dan Brendel

We found North County voter turnouts, in aggregate, were comparably high for races for federal and state elections, as well as (somewhat anomalously) local measures — generally with percentages in the mid-80s on average and ranges from the low-70s to high-90s.

Average turnout fell off for certain lower races — often not by more than a handful of percentage points, but as low the low-60s for elementary school boards. But that’s still as high as the total countywide turnout for the 2018 gubernatorial general election, and much higher than for certain special local elections, which didn’t share the ballot with higher offices. For example, only 26% of voters participated in a 2018 vacancy election for the Rancho Santa Fe School District.

Participation differed considerably by geography in North County. For the most part, Escondido, San Marcos, Vista and parts of Oceanside saw lower turnouts than Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar.

The race for County Board, District 3 provides a case in point. Among North County cities, District 3 includes only Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar and Escondido. Turnout in the former three coastal cities was generally in the low- to mid-80s, compared to the mid-60s in much of inland Escondido.

One notable exception to this geographic pattern is elementary school board races, with turnout percentages in the 60s to 70s in Escondido, versus 50s to 60s in Encinitas. One reason might be that the proportion of family households in Escondido exceeds that in Encinitas by about 10 percentage points, perhaps due to relatively cheaper housing inland.

Turnout for mayoral races in the three North County cities that had them differed enormously. It was relatively low in Solana Beach, where municipal races were uncontested; high-80s across Encinitas, where the mayoral race this year was exceptionally bitter; and mixed in Oceanside, with higher turnout in the center and east.