Tiny Alpine County leads California in voter turnout
November 13, 2004
MARKLEEVILLE, Calif. – In the nation’s most populous state, the 1,208 residents of little Alpine County outdid the millions in California’s metropolitan areas when it came to performing their civic duty on Election Day.
More than 86 percent of voters in the isolated county cast ballots on Nov. 2.
Those 714 votes may not have made a dent in the presidential sweepstakes – Democrat John Kerry carried California thanks mostly to voters in coastal cities. But the level of voter participation they represent still is impressive for a county that lacks a single high school.
“We know we’re small and we know we don’t have much say,” said 74-year-old Alpine County resident Dave Brees, “but we do like to say it.”
Alpine County has only five voting precincts. It and Sierra County to the south are the only two in the state that vote exclusively by mail.
The privilege is reserved under state law for precincts that have fewer than 250 voters, but also helps when the snow closes Ebbett’s and Monitor passes before Election Day, as it did this winter.
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Although voter turnout across the state was above average, few other California counties registered participation levels above 70 percent.
“People in rural counties take more of an interest in politics because we’re closer to it,” said Dave Kirby, 68, owner of Woodfords Station diner, deli and general store, a center of daily political debate in the town of 150.
“One or two votes can make a lot of difference around here,” he told The Sacramento Bee.
The local sheriff survived a tie vote that resulted in a runoff election several years ago, while an auditor’s race was decided by three votes.
Woodfords resident Dave Zellmer, 67, tells the story of a candidate years back who was running for county supervisor. Because he lived with his wife and mother, he figured he was assured of at least three votes.
He got two.
“We kidded him about that for years,” said Zellmer, who was the county’s fire chief for 17 years. “He never did figure it out.”