It was either an election to remember... or one to forget... for California on June 5, as final statewide tallies show a new low for presidential primary turnout, and a razor-thin defeat for a closely watched tax initiative.
Friday afternoon's official statistics released by Secretary of State Debra Bowen put official statewide turnout at 31.1 percent. That's not the lowest ever for a California election (that dubious honor going to the 28.2 percent turnout in June 2008), but a new record for lowest voter participation in a California presidential primary.
Meantime, a big surge in those voting by mail -- 65 percent of the votes cast were done so somewhere other than a polling place, a new record high.
Voter interest, at least in terms of percentages, waxed and waned across the Golden State. Tiny Sierra County had the highest turnout (59.2 percent), populous Los Angeles County had the lowest (21.8 percent).
And, barring some unforeseen developments, the tobacco tax increase Proposition 29 looks to have lost by the slimmest margin of any initiative in the last 18 years.
The certified totals show Prop 29 lost by 24,076 votes out of more than 5 million votes cast statewide.
That final tally, though, seems to require an asterisk at this point; on Thursday, a San Francisco doctor involved with the campaign for the dollar-per-pack tax for cancer research asked for a recount in 191 of Los Angeles County's 4,786 precincts.
Los Angeles County registrar Dean Logan says the recount, which would have to be paid for by Dr. John Maa and not taxpayers, would cost some $34,000 for just the first two days of tallying. An election attorney representing Maa hasn't responded to a call and email seeking comment.
The request caught the official Prop 29 support campaign off guard, as officials conceded weeks ago that they weren't going to be able to pull off the comeback victory. And to make things even more curious, the recount was requested for precincts only in the state's 46th Assembly district -- a Los Angeles area that was ground zero for California's most expensive legislative race in June. The race ended with the second and third place candidates only separated by 31 votes, a big deal under California's new top two primary rules.
Whether the low turnout for June is a harbinger for November is anyone's guess, though most political watchers chalk it up to the non-competitive presidential primaries and short statewide ballot. Both of those dynamics will change dramatically come the fall, when voters will consider eleven intensely debated initiatives as well as make a final decision about the future occupant of the White House.