Voters around the East Bay trickled into polling places Tuesday, some of them hoping to defy predictions of a dismal turnout.
"I've never seen it this slow," said attorney Rich Ames after he dropped off his absentee ballot at the Park Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Oakland, his polling station for 15 years.
With few competitive races to draw in voters in the East Bay's biggest city, Ames said he paid more attention to the two statewide ballot initiatives and an Alameda County half-percent sales tax proposal.
"There's nothing of note, really," Ames said. "The only reason I voted was for the initiatives."
A few miles away, Gov. Jerry Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, were among the voters who arrived early at their Oakland hills precinct. Brown is expected to win handily, but the big question was which Republican would come second in the top-two primary to face him in the general election: tea party favorite Tim Donnelly or the more moderate Neel Kashkari.
Alameda County's registrar of voters, Tim Dupuis, said he expected 25 to 30 percent of the county's registered voters, compared to 37 percent who voted in the last gubernatorial primary in 2010. Contra Costa County elections chief Joe Canciamilla predicted 28 percent this year, compared to 40 percent in 2010.
By Tuesday morning, Alameda County had received 94,000 early or mailed-in votes, just 11 percent of all voters, and Contra Costa had received 91,000, about 17 percent of all voters.
"I haven't been to a polling place yet where they've said they have a lot of people," said Canciamilla, speaking by phone from a voting site in Brentwood. "The turnout has been really, really slow."
Canciamilla said "there's always lower turnout in primaries. This time it's exacerbated by the fact there were very few contested races."
At a polling place inside the offices of the Martinez Unified School District, by 8 a.m., only three voters had cast ballots. During November elections -- especially during presidential voting years -- the polling place is typically abuzz with activity, most or all of its five or six voting booths occupied.
In Alameda County, unions and health care providers raised more than $650,000 in recent months for mailers and a TV advertisement persuading voters to pass Measure AA, which would extend from 2019 to 2034 a half-percent sales tax funding public hospitals and the health care safety net. Voters were also flooded with mail if they lived in the districts with intraparty Democratic fights that could extend to November: such as between Tim Sbranti and Steve Glazer for an Assembly seat; between Ro Khanna and incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Honda; and between Ellen Corbett and incumbent U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell.
Some cities had more excitement than others. In Hayward, voters were choosing a new mayor, two council members and deciding on a half-percent sales tax for a new library and other city services. In Fremont and West Contra Costa County, voters were considering school bond measures. And between Piedmont and Hercules, voters had a choice of eight candidates competing to replace termed-out Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.
Still, inside the Berkeley Historical Society, precinct coordinator Celso Simao said "it's going to be slow. Even the amount of ballots they sent us is less. Usually it's three times more."
Those who did come were more likely to cite civic duty than intriguing choices. Denis Aragon brought his 3-year-old son Ethan to the precinct station in downtown Berkeley.
"There wasn't that much information, not a whole lot of explanation," Aragon said. "I'm glad I did a lot of research on my own. It's important for my son to see me vote. To see me filling out the ballot. Scratching it off."
At the Lafayette United Methodist Church, Evaristo Dominguez cast his ballot in the shadow of the church's gymnasium basketball hoop. The 78-year-old stopped by the polling place Tuesday morning during the first of his two, one-mile daily walks.
"If I don't vote, I don't have the right to complain ... I came to this country for human rights," said Dominguez, who emigrated from Chiapas, Mexico in 1958.
Polls close at 8 p.m.
Staff writers Samantha Clark and Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.
Polling places are open until 8 p.m. Tuesday; by law, you can vote if you're in the polling place line by 8 p.m. If you have not yet mailed your vote-by-mail ballot, DON'T -- it will arrive too late to be counted. Leave it Tuesday at any polling place in your county. You can authorize a relative or any person living in your home to return your ballot, but follow the instructions for signing the return envelope. Information on voting and polling places available at: Alameda County, 510-267-8683; Contra Costa County, 925-335-7871; Santa Clara County, 866-430-VOTE; San Mateo County, 650-312-5222.