In numbers that approached historically low levels, Californians went to the polls Tuesday to pick a governor and a U.S. senator and pass judgment on the state's most controversial judge, Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.
They also tackled ballot propositions on AIDS, toxic discharge and the English language.
"Voter turnout appears to be in keeping with what we had expected. If the current trend continues, it will mean between 55% and 60% of California's registered voters participated in the election," said Caren Daniels-Meade, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's elections office. "Unfortunately, that means we may be in the process of setting a record low."
At early evening, state officials said voting statewide was running 11% behind the pace of four years ago. At 4 p.m., barely a third of the registered voters had gone to the polls, compared to 44% in 1982.
Pollster Richard Maullin said in an interview, "If the law didn't require us to have an election this year, we probably wouldn't have bothered with one. As California elections go, this one was a little laid back."
The race that once seemed destined to stir up voters was the confirmation test for Bird for another 12-year term as chief justice. Experts said, however, they believe that public opinion polls showing her all but doomed contributed to the overall voter indifference.
On the ballot along with Bird for confirmation votes were five other justices of the seven-member Supreme Court. Three are fellow liberals appointed by Democratic governors: Justices Stanley Mosk, Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin. Reynoso and Grodin attracted organized opposition in the elections by groups contending that the two, along with Bird, are standing in the way of the death penalty.
Two conservative justices to the high court were on the ballot, Edward A. Panelli and Malcolm M. Lucas.
The election of a governor was a rematch from 1982, and the Senate contest was a test between an old-fashioned liberal and a GOP pragmatist with an odd name who came from nowhere, thanks in part to a gush of business support.
Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston, one of California's most durable political figures, was seeking to be the first California senator elected to a fourth six-year term since Hiram Johnson did it in 1934. He also was seeking to be a liberal survivor in this conservative era.
The Republican challenger, two-term Rep. Ed Zschau, was the newest and fastest-rising star in his party. He sought to capitalize on the glamour of his high-technology entrepreneurial background.
The race attracted extra attention around the nation because of the struggle between Democrats and Republicans for majority control in the U.S. Senate.
The governor's race featured incumbent Republican George Deukmejian, asking for a second term of four years, against Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who was trying once again to fulfill his dream of being the nation's first black elected governor. Bradley lost in 1982 by 93,345 votes, or 1%.
For those two races, campaign spending approached a staggering $40 million.
Election Day in California, of course, wouldn't be complete without some glitches and challenges.
Never mind apathy elsewhere. It was a positively fiery election in El Dorado County, west of Lake Tahoe in the northeastern edge of the state. There, 314 firefighters voted during breaks in their battle against a 265-acre forest fire.
Voting on Duty
The fire broke out Monday, and by early Tuesday it became apparent that fire crews would still be on the lines when the polls closed. So the U.S. Forest Service sent word to elections officials in nearby Placerville to figure out a way for the firefighters to vote.
Michele MacIntyre, the elections supervisor in El Dorado County, said she contacted state and regional elections officials and got approval for the crews to vote by absentee ballot.
Her husband, Pacific Bell switchman Jay MacIntyre, borrowed a phone company truck, was deputized as an elections judge, and lugged ballots up to the fire's front lines Tuesday afternoon.
The fire, centered near tiny Georgetown about 25 miles north of Placerville, was expected to be under control today.
Not so smoothly solved was the problem facing some San Francisco voters who went to the polls Tuesday morning only to find them closed. Ross Travis, chief deputy registrar for San Francisco County, said 13 of the county's 710 precincts were affected by delays.
Travis said that there is usually a smattering of delays in the 7 a.m. opening but that this year's total was a "high number." He said all of the polls were opened by 11 a.m.
The delays were caused when inspectors and judges did not show up at their assigned precincts while lines of voters formed outside. "The reasons were everything from the inspector being taken to hospital the night before to the backup inspector getting lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood to the unknown," Travis said.