SACRAMENTO — The votes are all in for the California primary, but many remained uncounted Wednesday, leaving some contests still up in the air, notably the statewide question on whether to increase the tax on tobacco to fund cancer research.
With more voters casting their ballots by mail, local election officials can't process them all on Election Day, even one such as Tuesday that produced one of the lowest turnouts ever for a statewide primary.
While tabulations show votes from all precincts across the state, many votes will remain uncounted for days or weeks afterward. No one had a precise estimate of the uncounted votes statewide, but it was at least 800,000 and perhaps a million or more as of Wednesday.
Los Angeles County reported it has 162,108 ballots left to count. Election officials in San Diego County said they had about 135,000; Orange County had about 113,000; Santa Clara County had as many as 96,000; Sacramento County 84,000; Alameda County 61,000; Riverside County 49,200; San Francisco County 31,000; San Bernardino County 30,000; San Joaquin County 18,000; and Santa Cruz County 16,000.
The 11 counties reported a total of 800,000 uncounted ballots. There are 58 counties in the state.
"Every election, it's the same story. The next day everybody calls in shock that there are ballots left to be processed and you can't call these tight elections like the cigarette tax," said Gail Pellerin, president of California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and registrar of voters for Santa Cruz County.
With about 3.8 million votes counted, Proposition 29 calling for a $1 tax hike on cigarettes and other tobacco products was losing by about 64,000 votes, or 1.6 percent.
Most of the unprocessed ballots were from people who mail in their ballots near the deadline or drop off mail-in ballots at their polling sites. Some also are provisional ballots, which are cast when there's a question about a voter's eligibility.
The Secretary of State's office reported turnout at 24 percent statewide, with about 4.1 million votes counted so far out of more than 17.1 million registered voters. The percentage will increase as the uncounted ballots are tabulated but even then the total likely will be only about 30 percent.
The lowest statewide primary turnout was 19.75 percent in June 2008. The presidential primary was held in February that year. This year, the presidential primary was held along with other races Tuesday, but with no competition for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's nomination on the Republican side already assured, there was little interest.