SAN JOSE -- With not many people interested yet in this year's elections, polling places are expected to be some of the loneliest places around Santa Clara County during Tuesday's primary.

The Registrar of Voters is forecasting an overall 35 percent turnout among the county's 807,000 registered voters, which would be the lowest for any primary since 1994.

The average polling place is expected to get about 100 voters in all, or seven to eight per hour. In other words, it might take longer to get your morning coffee than cast your ballot.

"I do not expect long lines" at the polls, registrar Shannon Bushey said. "The primaries just don't bring out the voters as much as the general election does. People are saying there are not a lot of hot issues."

Sure, San Jose has an open mayoral seat for the first time in eight years. But voters on Tuesday are only expected to narrow the field from five major candidates to the two leaders who would square off in November. Turnout among San Jose mail voters so far is actually slightly lower than the rest of the county.

And with Gov. Jerry Brown's re-election bid on cruise control and few other major local, state or national races or ballot measures, Silicon Valley voters appear to be yawning.

As of Friday, county voters had returned only 18 percent of mail ballots, which went out nearly four weeks prior. That's significant because nearly 7 in 10 county voters cast their ballots by mail, though historically nearly half of mail ballots have come in at the last minute.


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The county also opened five early-voting booths for the first time this year -- in San Jose, Milpitas, Gilroy, Campbell and Los Altos -- during the last two weekends. During the first period, on May 24 and May 25, only 220 people showed up to cast traditional-style ballots, or less than 0.1 percent of all non-mail registered voters.

The low turnout will also affect the political calculus in the races.

In the San Jose mayoral contest, for instance, 35,000 votes should be enough for a candidate to capture a spot in the runoff to represent a city of 1 million people.

How is that possible? Consider that the expected turnout among the city's 415,000 registered voters translates to only about 145,000 votes cast in the race. In the last primary for an open mayoral seat, when there were also five major candidates, scoring a bit less than a quarter of the votes was enough for a contender to advance to the runoff.

Everything changes in November. Past gubernatorial general elections have drawn much higher turnout in the county -- most recently, 67 percent in November 2010, after the primary drew 43 percent.

Don't get too down on Santa Clara County for its low voter interest; the rest of the state isn't expected to do any better. While the Secretary of State is not predicting statewide turnout for Tuesday, it notes that California voter participation ranged from 28 percent to 42 percent in non-presidential primaries during the last 30 years.

The good news is that election-night results shouldn't be backlogged with an endless stream of ballots. Bushey expects that right after the polls close Tuesday at 8 p.m., the registrar will post to its website the results from all the mail ballots received by Monday. That should amount to about half of the overall results.

For the other half, about 300 workers will be tabulating the regular and mail ballots received Tuesday, and the registrar should start adding those results online at about 9 p.m., she said, with frequent updates continuing through the night.

It's too late now to mail your votes in. Mail ballots only count if they're received before the polls close Tuesday -- postmarks do not count -- so mail voters who haven't sent their ballots need to drop it off.

To find a last-minute spot to drop off a mail ballot or check for your polling location, visit sccvote.org or call 408-299-VOTE. Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at Twitter.com/rosenbergmerc.