Friday, November 14, 2014

Yorba Linda voter turnout drops to historic low

The big story in Yorba Linda's City Council election isn't so much who won or how much money was spent by candidates and committees as the record low number of voters who participated, despite the deluge of mailers, roadway signs and automated telephone calls.

Less than half of 40,270 registered voters bothered to return a mail-in ballot or visit a polling place, well below the 65.3 percent in the 2010 midterm election and 77.3 percent for the 2012 presidential ballot, for an historic low in a regularly scheduled election.

Only a couple of special elections, such as last month's failed recall with a 31.5 percent turnout – 12,783 out of 40,532 registrants – have drawn fewer voters in 47 years of cityhood.

And the number who voted for council candidates was even less, based on counts for the contests and the tally for Measure JJ, which eliminates pension and health benefits for fut- ure councils, that drew hundreds fewer “yes” and “no” votes than the official turnout.

Also consider that at least 8,000 voting-age adults aren't registered, so the percentage of Yorba Lindans who cast council race ballots drops dramatically. Sadly, of 22,616 vote-by- mail ballots requested by residents, about half were returned.

Certainly, the negative nature of the council campaigns played a large part in the lamentable lack of participation, with more than six out of every 10 voting-age citizens opting not to vote.

Two factions emerged – Peggy Huang and Tom Lindsey versus Jeff Decker and Judy Murray – with opposing camps calling each other liars in mailers, phone calls and social media.

Ridiculous roadway signage repulsed many voters, especially “Lindsey-Huang=More Traffic, More Crime” and “Huang Hates Horses,” and all candidates, responsible for zoning laws if elected, violated portions of the law's temporary sign regulations.

Mailers from both factions misrepresented issues and opponents, making it difficult to pick the most egregious example, but I'll cite one sad case from Huang, since she won the most votes.

Sent to women voters, the brochure was portrayed as a “non-partisan voter guide.” Four of five candidates were listed by first and last name with picture, except for Judy Murray, who was “J. Murray” with “photo not available,” obscuring her gender.

Also, the retiree was listed as “unemployed,” omitting her homeowner association presidency and other service. Let's hope this hit-piece was a one-time aberration from an otherwise positive candidate that was created by a too-eager consultant skilled as a negative wordsmith.

Historical note: Re-elected school trustee Karin Freeman joins the ranks of this city's most popular elected officials. She will complete 32 years in office when her new term ends, second only to the late Paul Armstrong, with 41 years as school trustee and water district director, and just ahead of Hank Wedaa's 30-year council service.