A midnight report posted four hours after the polls closed on Election Day showed only 33.8 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot, prompting some residents to lament about an abysmal turnout.
But those numbers only included votes submitted at polling places and early vote-by-mail ballots, not the thousands of vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at poling places or those that arrived at the election office through the mail that day or the next.
"There's so many ballots being sent to us. That's not a true representation on election night. It's truly after vote-by-mail that we have any close-to-accurate turnout," said Tommy Gong, county clerk-recorder.
Despite those early reports suggesting rock-bottom voter turnout, a flood of vote-by-mail ballots shows San Luis Obispo County had a stronger showing than previous primary elections. And the record number filled out away from the polls is changing how we read election results.
Gong expected to see voter turnout this year between 45 and 50 percent, based on early mail returns.
As of Thursday afternoon, the county election office had received more than 86,000 ballots out of 166,592 registered voters, a nearly 52 percent voter turnout, and the office will likely receive more mail-in ballots on Friday to add to the count (if they were postmarked by Election Day).
SLO County voter turnout was 41.5 percent in the 2014 primary and 47.1 percent in the 2010 primary.
While this year's turnout isn't as high as the 61.1 percent of county voters who cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, it's not as bad as it initially looked. That's mostly because of the huge increase in vote-by-mail ballots.
This year, nearly 72 percent of registered voters received vote-by-mail ballots — a huge leap from 44.4 percent in the last election.
"People are voting later in the game and certainly turning them in at the last minute at the polls and at the Post Office," Gong said.
That means an early statewide report showing 22 percent voter turnout is flat-out wrong. Some counties haven't even reported their total number of ballots received.
The increasing number of vote-by-mail ballots also delays final results because the late arrivals can trickle in over a matter of days and take more time to process.
While most local races showed clear leads in the most recent report around midnight early Wednesday morning, all eyes are on the District 4 race that last showed Lynn Compton with a tiny margin over Jimmy Paulding in the race for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.
The next results won't be posted until Friday, likely at the end of the day.