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What happened with CA’s Prop 8? Questions that still need answers

I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories. The 9/11 Truth movement? Not credible. Alex Jones from InfoWars? I’m from Austin, TX, and he’s been our town idiot with a cheesy cable access show for as long as I can remember. Nevertheless, there’s something curious going on in California with regards to their ballot initiatives. I don’t mean to suggest fraud, necessarily, but these questions need to be answered by supporters of gay marriage and gay rights if they hope to understand what went wrong.

As I write this, the No on Prop 8 organization has not yet conceded, clinging to the hope that projected turnout will yield additional uncounted ballots.

Unfortunately, I now believe that this is unlikely, given that projected turnout results nationwide were wildly inflated. States from every region are reporting lighter than expected turnout (Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, West Virginia, Wisconsin). With turnout projected at a low end of 130 million (and a high of 140 million), it’s looking more likely that we’ll just surpass 2004’s record turnout of 122 million. (Although it’s worth noting that turnout projections are all over the place right now as final results are certified, including absentee and provisional ballots.)

However, even supposing that turnout only barely increased nationwide (and actually decreased in some states), there are turnout results within California that are difficult to explain. For instance:

Why is it that turnout in San Francisco was barely 50%?

With no other city as invested in the outcome of Prop 8, and no other city in America with as large a gay population, what is the explanation for the fact that turnout fell dramatically there?

  • In 2000, San Francisco saw turnout of about 66%.
  • In 2004, San Francisco saw turnout of nearly 75%.

    It’s certainly not the case that historically San Franciscans fail to show up at the ballot box.

    What about other counties? Los Angeles saw much higher turnout of 65%. Although LA had turnout of around 79% in 2004, why did LA’s turnout decrease by only 14 points, while San Francisco’s decreased by 25?

    What about the broader Bay Area? Of the nine county region, only one county (Solano) voted for the proposition. Alameda, the largest (by registration) saw turnout of about 55%. In 2004, turnout was 76% (PDF), a 21 point drop.

    Between only San Francisco and Alameda, had they voted at their 2004 turnout levels, somewhere between 250,000 to 300,000 additional Yes votes might have been obtained.

    Some might suppose that early returns on the east coast depressed turnout. I’m not convinced that this is the case. Certainly, Prop 8 was such a large and expensive campaign that most Californians knew about the initiative, even beyond the presidential election. Second, if knowing Obama was winning would discourage any voters, surely it should suppress the votes of McCain voters–who are more closely tied with support for Prop 8. (See chart–although it’s not a perfect correlation, generally as Obama’s win percentage goes up, Prop 8’s win percentage goes down.)

    The GLBT community and its allies need to figure out what caused this precipitous drop-off in voter participation in this very important election if they’re to effectively mobilize voters in the future. Whatever the reason, these are questions that should be answered to better fight such ballot initiatives.

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