More than 200 polling places opened Tuesday morning across the North Coast, ushering in an election offering voters choices that range from governors to local judges, from legalizing marijuana to placing the state’s landmark climate control legislation on hold.
City councils are up for grabs, school boards could be reconfigured and voters are being asked to consider several tax measures, including in Santa Rosa, where a quarter-cent city sales tax is on the ballot.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., and county officials expect a healthy turnout.
Sonoma County election officials predict 72 percent of 246,500 registered voters will have cast ballots by the 8 p.m. deadline.
As of Monday morning, more than half of the county’s mail-in voters had sent in their ballots.
“That’s a good turnout,” said Gloria Colter, assistant registrar of voters.
More than 96,000 ballots were in hand at the registrar of voter’s office Monday afternoon, she said.
That represented 58 percent of the 167,300 ballots mailed to county voters.
But so far for the state’s 58 counties, just less than 3 million absentee ballots had been returned — less than 40 percent of the 7.6 million ballots requested, according to the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. Officials said that means a huge number of last-minute returns will not be processed until after Tuesday, and the most competitive races may be too close to call.
Sonoma County voters were showing up in a steady flow at the elections office to drop off their mail ballots. About 8,000 ballots were submitted over the weekend at several locations around the county.
Today, voters with mail-in ballots have the option of delivering them to any polling place or to the elections office at the county administration center, 435 Fiscal Drive in Santa Rosa.
The mid-term election takes place during a struggling economy, which has fueled several state ballot measures and put incumbents on the defensive.
“It is a very traditional pocket book election. But the level of anger towards Washington and Sacramento, the depth of that anger, is what makes it different,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
Highlights on today’s ballot include a close-fought Senate race between Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO.
Likewise, the gubernatorial election features a female candidate with top shelf corporate credentials, former eBay chief Meg Whitman, who is up against Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is trying to capture a post he held from 1975 to 1983.
Among the key local races: A bitterly contested 2nd District Supervisorial campaign between Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt and her fellow Council Member David Rabbitt.
Empire Law School Dean Patrick Broderick faces off with attorney John LemMon for a Superior Court judgship, a race punctuated at its end by a controversial LemMon attack mailer against Broderick.
Competitive council races in Santa Rosa and Petaluma and Rohnert Park are being closely watched. And in Cotati, there is a replay of sorts, with former Councilman George Barich aiming to recapture the seat he was recalled from last year.
In Santa Rosa, Mayor Susan Gorin and Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi are trying to hold their seats against the challenge of a three-man slate made up of Jake Ours, an economic consultant; Scott Bartley, an architect; and Juan Hernandez, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Nine propositions — some being watched nationwide — are on the ballot.
Proposition 19 would legalize marijuana in the state. Proposition 23 would suspend a 2006 state law that outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger considers one of his legacies, the Global Warming Solutions Act, which mandates increasingly lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Today’s forecast calls for good voting weather: Sun and temperatures in the high 70s.