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Sonoma County heads to the polls Tuesday with most ballots still outstanding

The majority of Sonoma County voters are waiting until the last minute to cast ballots in California’s earliest primary in 16 years, seeking to sway the closely-watched outcome of the Democratic presidential primary and determine who will face off against President Donald Trump.

More than 80% of Sonoma County voters cast their ballots by mail, but as of Monday, just 31% of those voters had returned a ballot, leaving hopes for high turnout dependent upon a late surge in mail ballots or strong in-person voting from the 18% of voters who go to polling places.

California is one of 14 states voting on Super Tuesday, with the largest share of delegates to date up for grabs in the presidential race among Democrats. California accounts for 12% of the required tally to secure the nomination, and the advanced March 3 election is meant to hand the state more influence over who emerges from the shrinking field.

Sonoma County election officials have anticipated turnout of 65% to 70%, about on par with 2016. But the local emergency declared Monday over the coronavirus could hamper some of that participation.

Deva Proto, the county’s registrar of voters, clarified that local polling places aren’t exactly packed with people, and therefore don’t represent a huge coronavirus risk. And polling places will be outfitted with hand sanitizer as a precaution, she said

Voters’ tendency to hold onto mail ballots, especially this year amid a hotly contested Democratic primary, is likely a main factor in the low turnout to date, said Sonoma State University political science professor David McCuan.

Three candidates -, former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and California billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer -, dropped out in the past two days. Buttigieg and Klobuchar on Monday endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The big thing is that we have a very early primary in a state with late developments affecting the vote,” McCuan said.

Proto confirmed Monday that those who have voted can’t take back their votes, meaning a vote is moot for any of those also-ran candidates.

Some residents have complained about not receiving their mail ballots, but Proto said her office hasn’t fielded any more complaints than normal – about 25 per day.

If they received word quickly enough, Proto’s office tried to supply a replacement ballot by mail. If voters still haven’t received a mail ballot, they’re encouraged to visit one of 175 polling places in the county and fill out a provisional ballot.

Even people who aren’t registered to vote can do so, and cast a provisional ballot, on Election Day.

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