Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Created: 11/01/2010 06:18:56 PM PDT

With gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars on high-profile campaigns and state voters set to decide on legalizing marijuana for recreational use, some experts believe today’s voter turnout could be higher than normal for a midterm election.

But it’s unlikely participation rates in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties will equal the high numbers from 2008’s presidential election, say local polling officials.

“We’ll always have higher turnout in a presidential election,” said San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil.

About 47 percent of registered voters participated in the last gubernatorial election of 2006, Verjil said. Voter turnouts for gubernatorial elections in the county have ranged from as low as about 42 percent to as high as approximately 50 percent, Verjil said.

Those totals are much less than 2008’s presidential election with a record county turnout of about 74 percent, Verjil said. A record number of vote-by-mail ballots – more than 327,000 – have been sent out for today’s election, about 40 percent of the county’s 806,163 registered voters, Verjil said. About 130,000 have already been returned.

Verjil said that about 3,000 people have taken advantage of early voting at the registrar’s San Bernardino headquarters since it was made available Oct. 4.

“This will be an interesting election to view the return methods,” Verjil said. “The numbers are getting closer, but we still have more voters that vote at the polling places on Election Day.”

Professor Shaun Bowler, interim chairman of UC Riverside’s political science department, says presidential races simply captivate the public more than their gubernatorial counterparts, so more voters decide to participate.

“If you’re going to vote in one election, that’s the one people vote for,” he said.

While today’s turnout may be slightly higher than usual, participation numbers could also take a dip because many Californians dislike all of the major candidates, Bowler said.

“On the one hand, the candidates statewide have run really big campaigns,” Bowler said. “On the other hand, there’s a lot of discontent with politics and that could decrease turnout.”

But Proposition 19, the statewide initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use, could inspire those for and against it to trek to the polls, Bowler said.

“Even if people are turned off by the candidates, they may have a view on that proposition,” he said. “That could be one that generates interest.”

Low voter turnout benefits Republican candidates. Higher turnout benefits Democrats, Bowler said.

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