In summary

Nine of ten registered voters cast ballots in Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California, making them the state’s highest turnout counties in the November 2020 election. Their competition? A Sun City Palm Desert precinct, where turnout reached almost 96%.

 Lea este artículo en español. 

Nine of ten registered voters cast ballots in two northern California counties, making them the state’s highest turnout counties in the November 2020 election.

Sonoma County had the highest turnout at an impressive 90.49% of registered voters.

Neighboring Marin county shared the same stratosphere at 90.25%, according to statistics from the Secretary of State’s office.

The statewide average? 81%.

While Northern California claims the record turnout among California’s 58 counties,  a CalMatters analysis of the state’s 12 most populated counties revealed a precinct in Sun City Palm Desert, a retirement community in Southern California, that boasts a voter turnout of about 96%.

Sonoma County has plenty of residents but it’s not in the top 12, so we checked with Sonoma County elections officials to find the highest turnout precinct that had at least 1,000 voters. Precinct 1111, with 1,097 registered voters, achieved a whopping 96.72% turnout.

Nearby, a precinct in the Oakmont area of Santa Rosa with 2,210 registered voters came in a close second at 96.33% turnout.

Like much of the greater Bay Area, precinct 1111 voted for President-elect Joe Biden in a big way: 71% Biden to 27% President Donald Trump, with other candidates getting the remainder.

The precinct is in the hilly Rincon Valley area of northeast Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa City Council Member Victoria Fleming’s district includes the precinct. It escaped the Tubbs Fire devastation, but wildfire worries remain top of mind for residents, Fleming said.

“I used to live across from that precinct,” she said. “It is a heavily forested place where you can live in nature and walk to amenities. It’s really an idyllic place to live. It’s almost entirely covered in tree canopy. There are peacocks, American woodpecker, foxes. Nature really abounds up there. It’s really gorgeous.”

The area has older, educated residents engaged in civic affairs, which might explain the high turnout, she said.

Areas of higher voter turnout tend to be higher income, more educated and less ethnically diverse, and that appears to be the case for the precinct.

According to census data, household income in an area that includes the western part of the precinct is about $129,000 a year, and only four percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

About 59 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the median home value is $786,000. 

But some homes sell for more than $1 million.“The higher up in the hills you go, it gets more expensive,” Fleming said.

The western part of the precinct  is 81% white, and the median age is 55. But the eastern part of the precinct falls in a census tract that is younger and more middle class. The median age is 44, and household income is about $57,000.

About 39% of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the median home value is about $434,000.

About 13% of residents in the eastern census tract live below the poverty line. It is 66% white.

Active seniors are active voters

The retirement community of Sun City Palm Desert in Riverside County already has the distinction of being a high profile retirement community for active seniors in sunny Southern California, and now there’s proof that voting is part of the milieu. It had a turnout of 95.94%. Precinct data shows 5,697 out of 5,938 people voted.

The area was pretty split during the election. About 53% of votes cast in the presidential race went for Biden, while about 47% went for Trump.

Turnout was also high in 2016 — about 92.2%.

This makes Sun City Palm Desert a contender for the highest turnout community in the 12 highest population counties in California.

But there are caveats. In analyzing the 12 counties, CalMatters placed precincts within census tracts to find the tract with the highest turnout of 1,000 residents or more. A different analysis based strictly on precincts, for instance, might produce a different result — but there’s no question Sun City Palm Desert residents turned out in droves.

Riverside County Supervisor Manuel Perez’s district includes Sun City Palm Desert, located north of Interstate 10 between Palm Desert and Indio.

“It’s a beautiful city, rich in education, knowledge and experience,” Perez said. “A lot of folks are retired and moved from elsewhere, even from Canada.”

A year ago, Perez held a forum at Sun City about the future of the Salton Sea.

“It was standing room only,” he said. “There were 500 people there. You have individuals that care.”

The entire region is big on voting, he said. Rancho Mirage had 93.3% turnout and Indian Wells had 93.1% turnout, he said. 

“It was standing room only. There were 500 people there. You have individuals that care.”

manuel perez, riverside county supervisor

Sun City Palm Desert in an unincorporated community in the Coachella Valley. It was started more than 25 years ago by the Del Webb Corporation as a community of single-level homes for active seniors, and now has about 5,000 homes.

Home prices ranged from more than $200,000 to about $800,000, but lately some have been selling for about $1 million.

The community is gated, and offers two golf courses, three swimming pools, two fitness centers, three clubhouses and lots of palm trees. The community lacks a municipal government, but has a homeowners association whose volunteer board members are elected.

The median age in the community is 75.

The median household income is about $57,000, according to census data. Two thirds of the area’s residents are married. Its residents are generally well educated, as about 42% have a bachelor’s degree.

It has a high concentration of military veterans — 18% of its residents served. The area, however, is not very ethnically diverse as nine of ten residents are white.

Frank Melone, 77, is president of the homeowners association. Rallies and door-to-door campaigning are prohibited, but the Republican and Democratic clubs hold meetings and it’s an active community.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said about the high turnout. “I know our residents are pretty engaged in the political process. We had tons of signs in the community. They’re passionate about their candidates.”

Votebeat is a national media collaboration about the administration and integrity of, and issues regarding, the unprecedented 2020 election. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Gary Reed with any commentary questions: [email protected], (916) 234-3081.

Lewis Griswold

Lewis Griswold

Lewis is a Votebeat reporter covering election integrity. He lives in Visalia in the San Joaquin Valley. For 22 years, he was a reporter at The Fresno Bee covering agriculture, water, environment, police,...