Voting rate in Silicon Valley reaches historic levels
Dion Flores, 24, of San Jose drops off his ballot, saying he wanted to “participate in voting as it’s important to be heard.” Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Voters came out in droves for the 2020 general election as voting rates reached historic levels in Silicon Valley, where the majority cast ballots for Joe Biden.

According to Rachel Massaro, vice president and director of research at Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which authored a recent report along with Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, the eligible voter turnout rate in Silicon Valley consisting of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties was at a record level of 68 percent as of Nov. 11, compared to 62 percent in the 2016 general election.

“If all the ballots that San Mateo and Santa Clara counties expected to (be counted) over the next few days are included in the eligible voter turnout, we would end up with a 74 percent turnout, which is unprecedented,” Massaro told San José Spotlight. “We haven’t had a number that high in at least 50 years, if ever.”

The high voting rate “mostly reflects a great deal of attention to the national level race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” said Bill James, chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. “I think we have a fairly well informed electorate who felt motivated to participate in the elections.”

While the voting rate was also high in the 2016 election, Democrats in this year’s election were highly motivated to regain influence in policy decision-making after the significant Republican victory in 2016, and many of their subsequent policies didn’t bode well with Democrats including efforts to repeal Obamacare and reduce corporate taxes.

Many local Democrats also were excited about Kamala Harris.

“They’re proud of Kamala Harris coming from California,” James said. “They really feel that as a woman and person of color, she represents a lot of what’s great about California.”

The pandemic, he added, also has brought decision-making in local government to the limelight — another impetus for voters to engage in this year’s election.

According to Shane Patrick Connolly, chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, the largest factor that led to the voting rate is likely because all registered voters received vote-by-mail ballots.

The vote-by-mail rate as of Nov. 11 was about 84 percent in Silicon Valley, Massaro said. While the region compared to the rest of the state generally has a higher rate, she noted it was “an incredible number” this year due to the pandemic, and that number is expected to increase.

President Trump had energized the electorate and brought out many infrequent as well as new voters who supported or opposed him, Connolly said. There were also high-profile ballot measures of concerns across broad sections of the electorate, such as Prop. 16 that aimed to reverse the ban on affirmative action and Prop. 22, which allows gig economy companies to treat drivers as independent contractors.

Meanwhile, the share of voters who cast ballots for a Democratic and Republican presidential candidate was similar to that of the 2016 general election. While 74 percent of eligible voters in Silicon Valley cast ballots for Biden and 24 percent voted for Trump as of Nov. 11, 74 percent of Silicon Valley voters cast ballots for Hilary Clinton and 20 percent for Trump in the 2016 election.

Quinn Eibert, a student at Santa Clara University who is a resident of San Mateo County, supported Trump in the 2016 election though he was too young to vote. This year, he cast his ballot for Trump as he believed that the president stood up for American values and helped build the economy.

Eibert worked at a feed and supply shop in San Mateo County during the summer where he met farmers and ranchers, hard-working Americans whom he said didn’t feel that they were represented by Democrats, in part because the party had propagated a culture of victimization and failed to support the values of the United States.

“They don’t want to hear everyday that they’re racist, or that their legacy stained our country forever,” Eibert said.

“All they want is just to be able to live their life and not be slandered by politicians … Most people in America just want to be able to go to work, go home to their families, make sure that their kids have a better life than they do and live in the greatest country on Earth,” he said. “I think President Trump really represents all of those needs” as he aimed to lower taxes, represent business interests and stand up against China’s practice of undercutting the United States’ economic well-being.

But Trump has caused turmoil in the country, James said. While Biden is not as committed to progressive policies such as Medicare for All as other Democratic candidates in the presidential primary, James said Biden is the right president for the United States, and can help the country get back on its feet during trying times of the pandemic when the federal government had largely failed to respond to the public health crisis.

Connolly noted that while Biden is projected as winning by the national media, hand recount is underway in Georgia and counting is still happening in different states. Meanwhile, officials are also investigating voting irregularities.

“The president is using his legitimate, legal, Constitutional means to ensure the election was free and fair, much like the candidates did in the 2000 race that was prematurely called for former (Vice President Al) Gore, and we need to allow the time for that to happen,” he said.

“If Joe Biden is ultimately declared the winner, we’ll certainly wish him well, as loyal Americans. You won’t get this childish ‘not my President’ nonsense from most Republicans. Biden will have a lot of pressure from angry Democrats on the left to take a hard left turn. Some have even been employing shameful, McCarthyite tactics by creating lists of Trump supporters and threatening the attorneys providing legal services to the president in his fight to ensure election integrity.”

Data from the Nov. 10 report by the Joint Venture Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies has been updated.

Contact Nicholas Chan at [email protected] or follow @nicholaschanhk on Twitter.

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