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Business was steady Tuesday morning at various polling places in Santa Rosa despite predictions of low voter turnout this election cycle.

And for many, the decision to cast a ballot appeared to be as much philosophical as it was about ensuring victory for particular candidates or measures.

"I'm a skeptic and a complainer, and in order to earn the right to complain, I have to do something about it," said John Stark, 82, as he left the polling booth at Proctor Terrace Elementary School.

He said he voted for non-incumbents to protest public employee pensions that he believes threaten to lead the the city and county into bankruptcy.

"I'm so concerned about the general direction of this country and the way it's been co-opted by corporations," said Michael Klaper, M.D., who rode his bike to the school to cast his own ballot. Voting "is my act as an individual American.

"It sounds corny, but democracy is precious," Klaper said, "and this is one of those things I can do that makes me feel like an American, not just a consumer."

Polling places opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday and will remain open until 8 p.m.

At the First Congregational Church on Humboldt Street, three people already were waiting when precinct workers opened the doors. By 8:20 a.m., 30 people had come in to vote or drop off vote-by-mail ballots.

Traditionally, first thing in the morning, lunchtime and 5 p.m. quitting time are the busiest periods of the day, workers said.

But lunchtime "is a better barometer" of overall turnout, precinct inspector Tom McCracken said.

Sonoma County election officials expected about half of the county's voters to participate, in part due to fears ballot issues wouldn't motivate them to make the effort.

"We're really encouraging people to go out and vote," said Gloria Colter, Sonoma County's assistant registrar of voters.

The ballot includes local, state and national issues, from local school bond measures to picking a presidential candidate to run in November.

Colter said voters need to remember this primary ballot includes local issues that need input from voters.

"People are wrapped up in the idea of voting for president, but there are more important or equally important contests in the ballot," she said.

Primary voters Tuesday also are facing a new process for candidates heading to the November election, another reason it is so important for voters to participate, said Colter.

The top two finishers in primaries for the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and the state Legislature will advance to the general election, no matter their party affiliation and regardless of the margin of victory.

Colter pointed out in the race for U.S. Senate seat held by candidate Dianne Feinstein, 23 people are challenging her.

"With 24 candidates for U.S. Senate, two will go to the runoff. That could be any one of those parties," Colter said.

Three of Sonoma County's five supervisorial seats are at stake on Tuesday, with the race to replace retiring incumbent Valerie Brown shaping up as a geographic tug of war between Santa Rosa and Sonoma Valley.

Santa Rosa voters could play a decisive role in the contest that pits two Santa Rosa City Council members — Susan Gorin and John Sawyer — against four candidates from the valley.

Throughout the county there are sales tax, school bond or parcel tax issues facing area voters.

Alex Culick stopped in to vote at the First United Methodist Church on Montgomery Drive on Tuesday morning.

He referenced a Press Democrat editorial noting that only about a quarter of those eligible to vote were expected to cast ballots Tuesday, and said he was personally struck by what he perceived as widespread apathy among younger voters who were basically ceding decision-making to senior citizens.

Voting, he said, "is a privilege, and not a right."

Nancy Broderick had already voted when she arrived at the church to drop her grandsons at pre-school.

"We always vote," she said. " &‘Tis American!"