SMC election results are (mostly) in. Turnout was very very high! We love mail-in voting! We don’t love Kanye (or Trump)! And more….

“…A record-breaking year for San Mateo County.” 2020 was a year of unparalleled voter turnout on national and local levels. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Well, the 2020 election was indeed one for the history books. Voter turnout and participation reached a new high watermark for American voting in the modern age. Mail-in ballots were widely and effectively used in the face of the pandemic. And…all sorts of….unprecedented (or more aptly perhaps—“unpresidented”) things are happening regarding our national transfer of power (stay tuned on that one).

Here locally on the Peninsula, we saw a dynamic and diverse group of young residents run for their respective city councils, huge participation by mail, as well as an overall voter turnout that shot well past the national average.

“As far as voter turnout,” explains Jim Irizarry, the county’s Assistant Chief Elections Officer, “I can tell you that this is a record-breaking year for San Mateo County.”

So even as vote totals are still being finalized and local candidates anxiously await the results of hard-fought campaigns, we decided to take a quick dive into the extensive election data that San Mateo County has released in order to identify a few trends, quirks and other bits of election intrigue from November 3rd.

Take a look….

Voter James Payne fills out his ballot electronically at Onetta Harris Community Center in Menlo Park on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Overall election participation

Voter turnout was very high in San Mateo County, to the tune of 82.2%. And while that would appear to be in line with the turnout for the 2016 election which finished at a similarly high 81.57%, Irizarry is quick to point out the nuance: “Turnout does not tell the whole story, however, due to the increase in registration. In terms of raw numbers, we have counted 343,594 ballots so far, already surpassing the grand total from 2016, which was 323,303. This is the most ballots ever cast in any San Mateo County election.”

The county’s voter participation surpassed the statewide total of 70.3%, as well as the national turnout, which is likely to land somewhere between 66–72% (which, is worth noting, will be the highest in over a century).

In the wake of the pandemic, in-person voting at polling stations was very low, with a total of 29,678 ballots cast (or just 15% of the county’s overall vote). The highest in-person ballot total (in which participation exceeded 1000 voters) was at Precinct 4403 in Menlo Park to the tune of 21%.

The highest overall voter turnout for a precinct (with over 1000 votes cast) was Precinct 3614 in San Carlos with a rate of 77%, with the lowest being Precinct 4002 in East Palo Alto with 46%.

In the wake of the pandemic, in-person voting at polling stations in San Mateo County was very low, with a total of just 29,678 ballots cast (or 15% in-person turnout). (Photo by Lloyd Lee)

Mail-in totals

Voting by mail was utilized in huge, unprecedented and highly effective fashion in 2020. Figures for mail-in voting (or via a ballot dropbox) in San Mateo County are currently tallied at 313,916, which is expected to equate to around 85% of the vote (compared to 65% in 2016…a fairly high number for a non-pandemic election), causing Irizarry to conclude, “in this election we have seen voters truly embrace this practice.”

This mail-in total surpasses the current approximation of the statewide total of 72.08%, while also far eclipsing the national percentage, where the mail-in rate is currently just over 40% (at about 65 million votes cast by mail).

Within San Mateo County, the highest percentage of mail-in ballots (with over 1000 ballots cast) were at Precincts 3450 and 3459 in Menlo Park to the tune of 94% and 93% respectively of the total votes cast. There where also similarly high mail-in rates at precincts in South San Francisco and Daly City.

Workers in the vote center at Onetta Harris Community Center in Menlo Park on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Trump support

It’s no mystery that Californians voted heavily against Trump by about a 2–1 margin (approximately 9.8 to 5 million). This was even more pronounced here in the Bay Area, where San Francisco residents voted overwhelmingly in support of Joe Biden to the tune of 85% of the total votes cast. In San Mateo County, that total was also high, with 264,762 cast for Biden (or about 78.20%). All told, this is a sharp contrast to the national race totals currently landing at 50.7% for Biden and 47.6% for Trump.

Of course, there were still more than 67,000 votes cast for Trump in San Mateo County. So where did we see the greatest concentration of those votes come from? The highest volume of pro-Trump votes that we found were in (but not restricted to) the cities of Millbrae and Hillsborough, where for instance, Trump got 29% of the vote (with over 1000 votes cast) in Precincts 1504 (Millbrae) and 1401 (Hillsborough). These were not one-offs, but consistent with numerous precincts (1401, 1402, 1405, 1408, 1501, 1507, 1512, 1502) in those two cities in which Trump performed well above the county average.

We also saw some large percentages (again, where over 1000 ballots where cast) in precincts in Pacifica, San Bruno and South San Francisco (however, these were generally more isolated outliers).

Conversely, the lowest number of votes for Trump (with over 1000 ballots cast) was clearly East Palo Alto, with Precinct 4001, for instance, at just 9% of the vote for Trump. Other low Trump totals (with high precinct turnout) were found in Menlo Park and Redwood City.

Finally, some quirky stats: San Carlos’s tiny Precinct 365 completely rejected Trump, with 24 votes for Biden and 0 for the President. On the other hand, everyone in the isolated Precinct 3704 voted for Trump, for a total vote tally of 1–0 (we assume this was a ranger at Crystal Springs, but no one there has responded to our inquiry by deadline).

No Love for Kanye

And finally (because we know you are all wondering)—it is safe to say that Kanye West didn’t get much support in San Mateo County, netting just under 1000 total votes (or .39% of the total vote). But who cast the most votes for Weezy? That honor goes to Precinct 1501 in Millbrae…with a whopping 17 votes. Well, Kanye, there’s always 2024. (That was a joke—please stop.)

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Charles Russo

Award-winning writer and photographer with extensive experience across mediums, including videography, investigative reporting, editing, advanced research, and a wide range of photography.

Author of Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America; represented by Levine Greenberg Rostan Agency.

Freelance clients include Google, VICE and Stanford University.

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