Link to the ca-52 early voting map

KPBS radio speaks with inewsource’s Joe Yerardi about this story

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Why this matters: Voters in the 52nd congressional district have been casting early ballots for more than a week and it should soon become clear which candidate in the hard-fought contest has the turnout advantage heading into Election Day.


Early voting began in San Diego County on Monday, Oct. 6, and although there are scores of offices and ballot measures before the voters, the white hot 52nd congressional district race is considered the area’s marquee matchup.

A quarter of the 850,000 mail-in ballots that the county’s Registrar of Voters sent out went to voters in the 52nd district.

inewsource has created a searchable map that will be updated daily through the Nov. 4 election to show by precinct where mail-in ballots have been returned in the district.

Interactive: Click here for a searchable, interactive map of early voting return rates by precinct in California’s 52nd congressional district race.

The contest is one of only 10 House races considered a “pure tossup” by the highly-regarded Rothenberg Political Report. It features freshman Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from La Jolla, and Carl DeMaio, a Rancho Bernardo Republican and former San Diego city councilman who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2012. The two candidates are in a virtual dead heat, according to a U-T San Diego/10News poll released last week.

Both campaigns are watching where early votes are cast because they know which precincts have the voters most likely to be casting ballots for their candidate. Campaign operatives use this data to dispatch volunteers who target absentee voters in those areas who have not yet mailed in their ballots.

Registrar of Voters Michael Vu said his office expected to mail out an additional 20,000 to 30,000 absentee ballots between now and the election, bringing the total number of mail ballots countywide to nearly 900,000.

Of the 217,702 ballots mailed to voters in the 52nd district, 7,509 have been returned as of Oct. 14, a 3.45 percent return rate. The district, which runs north from Coronado to La Jolla and then east to include Carmel Valley, Scripps Ranch, Poway and Rancho Bernardo, has 385,276 registered voters.

Five of the 10 precincts with the highest return rates are in Coronado. Twenty-three precincts–all of them vote-by-mail precincts–have yet to return a single ballot.

Vu is bullish on the return rate.

“Right now, we have about 19,000 back” from across the county, he said, adding “I’m anticipating we will get about 500,000 back total.”

In the 2010 gubernatorial election, 55 percent percent of all San Diego County votes cast were mail ballots. In the June primary election, 73 percent of all votes cast were mail ballots.

Vu suspects the proportion will be somewhere between the two.

On the one hand, a higher proportion of general election (as opposed to primary) voters tend to cast ballots in person than through the mail.

On the other hand, when comparing the same type of election (e.g., the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections), the share of the vote conducted through mail balloting has consistently grown.

“Every election that we’ve had, the gap gets larger and larger between polling place voters and mail ballot voters,” Vu said. “So, I could see us go up to 60 percent or even higher than that.”

The last day county residents can register to vote is Oct. 20. The last day for registered voters to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot is Oct. 28.

Mail ballot voters who would prefer to drop their ballot off in person may do so at the Registrar of Voter’s office and, between Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, at 14 other locations throughout the county. If a mail ballot is to count, the registrar must receive it by 8 p.m. on Election Day on Nov. 4, either through the mail or in person at a polling place.

Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email