There were no voters at the polls in Alpine County on Tuesday. Even so it will probably log the highest voter turnout rate in all of California.
Tucked in the crook of the state below Lake Tahoe, Alpine County has entirely mail-order elections. The remote spot has just 1,102 residents spread over more than 700 square miles of rocky incline, and none concentrated enough in any one place to warrant a polling booth, said County Clerk Barbara Howard, who does double duty as registrar of voters. Thus all county residents cast their votes by mail.
Alpine in the June primary had the highest voter turnout rate in California, 59% contrasted with the statewide average of 31%. For the general election, Howard said she sent out ballots to 773 registered voters and expects to get most all of them back by the end of the day.
"We have a high turnout rate because of mail-in voting," she said. "It's worked out well."
One other California county is also so spread out that it has no polls. The 2,200 registered voters in Sierra County, north of Alpine, also do their voting by mail.
Assisting in Alpine's ballot collection is acting postmaster Sherlyn Armstrong, who keeps an eye out for the bright yellow envelopes at the county seat in Markleeville and sets them aside for Howard. Alpine's high voter turnout strikes her. "I've never seen such a politically minded county," she said, guessing that engagement reflects the prominence of government -- county, state or federal -- as the region's biggest employer.
When polling ends Tuesday, Howard will open up the board of supervisors' office for county residents to watch as the paper ballots are counted. She'll also set out cookies.
The central count attracts candidates, families and friends. "It's almost a party," said local writer Irving Krauss, 86, a local Democratic leader.
--Paige St. John in Sacramento