Story updated at 3:05 p.m., Nov. 4, 2014
An election season that brought allegations of sexual harassment, campaign office vandalism and a torrent of political TV ads came to an end today as San Diegans finally went to the polls.
Most, but not all, of the vitriol emanated from a fight for a congressional seat that represents part of central and northern San Diego County.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, is in an uphill battle to keep his seat, which he narrowly won in 2012 in a district that had been targeted by Democrats for about a decade.
Recent polling has him in a virtual dead-heat with Republican challenger Carl DeMaio. Also, more GOP voters are sending back their absentee ballots than Democrats, according to observers who are tracking the returns.
A former campaign aide alleged over the weekend that DeMaio engaged in sexual misconduct. DeMaio blames the Peters campaign for orchestrating a “character assassination attempt,” something the congressman denies.
Prosecutors declined to file criminal sexual harassment charges against DeMaio involving previous, and similar, claims by another former campaign staffer due to insufficient evidence. No charges were issued in the office break-in case, which took place at DeMaio’s campaign headquarters earlier this year.
Also on the ballot this year are statewide offices such as governor, attorney general and state superintendent of public instruction. San Diegan Ron Nehring, a former state Republican chairman, is on the ballot for lieutenant governor against incumbent Gavin Newsom.
San Diego County Taxpayers Association Vice President Chris Cate and education consultant Carol Kim are seeking an open seat on the San Diego City Council. The winner will become the first Asian-American on the council in nearly 50 years.
Michael Vu, the county Registrar of Voters, said he is expecting turnout of around 48-51 percent.
In a report released Monday, however, Vince Vasquez of the National University System Institute for Policy Research projected turnout to be 34-38 percent — the lowest figure in more than 30 years for an election with a governor’s race at the top of the ballot.
New voters — either young or from formerly marginalized ethnic groups — aren’t used to voting frequently, Vasquez said. He also said the rise of voters declining to state a party preference means there is less motivation to cast a ballot. That makes the problems systemic and could take into the next decade to solve, he said.
Vu’s office has set up 1,236 polling places around the county, covering 1,432 precincts. Some polling places will handle multiple precincts.
Vu said around 330,000 mail ballots had been returned, with more than 1,000 of those turned in to the Registrar of Voters Office in Kearny Mesa by late morning.
San Diego’s traditional “Election Central” will take place at Golden Hall, 202 C St., while the major political parties will hold events at nearby hotels — the Democrats at the Westin next to Horton Plaza and the GOP at the US Grant.
The first count, covering absentee ballots received up to that point, will be released shortly after 8 p.m., according to Vu.
City News Service contributed to this article.