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So Special

Nov
8
2005

Californians are voting again today, as we have almost every spring and fall for the past three years. That’s unusual in itself but if you want to see the future then take a look at how we’re actually casting those votes: In advance, by mail.
This time, it’s the Governor’s show-down with the legislature; a misguided attempt to make incumbent Democrats look bad. In the Spring we have primaries that will feature two millionaire Democrats, unknowns to most in the state, hoping to challenge Schwarzenegger. And then in the fall, we’ll vote – again – for governor, state and Congressional reps.
And each and every time Californians are asked to vote, there will be a host of special ballot initiatives designed to “turn out the base” and fire up hard-core party partisans. The total spent, mostly for these sorts of efforts, for this cycle is going to top $300 million. And it’s for votes on measures that everyone – even the governor – knows could have been resolved in Sacramento. Seriously, think of what you could do with $300 million. I’ll bet creating a new prescription drug system for California isn’t high on the list.
But that’s an issue that can get folks to the polls. And that’s why the money spent on campaigns keeps going up. Special elections are almost always determined by turn-out.
But that tried-and-true tactic is starting to back-fire. The frequency of elections combined with the ease with which you can register and choose permanent absentee status is doing more to increase turn-out than almost anything else. And that’s where we’ll get a peek at the future. Because this is the argument that supporters of on-line voting should, and will, eventually use for their cause. With absentee balloting, people are voting when they want to, sitting at home in their kitchens with a black felt marker. They’re taking their time. And they’re liking this particular form of participation.
Official estimates of today’s turn-out are in the low 40-percent range which is a fine testament to labor’s ability to move people in this state. But here’s something interesting – absentee voters are higher than they’ve ever been for the third election in a row. That’s good, very good, for the governor, as The San Francisco Chronicle pointed out today:

These last-minute efforts might not have the same effect they’ve had in the past, because a record 40 percent of today’s vote is expected to come from absentee ballots.
“We already have 61,000 votes in,” said John Arntz, San Francisco’s elections director. “From what I see, we’re going to be higher than that 43 percent turnout estimate.”
Absentee voters are likely to be older, whiter, more conservative and more Republican than those who cast their ballots at the polls… That means the first rush of absentee ballots, which will be released minutes after the polls close at 8 p.m., will provide an early indication of how the final tally is likely to go.

Perhaps. Permanent absentee voters are more sophisticated about voting; that’s for sure. They’ve figured out how to get the forms, for starters. It’s more likely that absentees – particularly in San Francisco – aren’t as Liberal as the folks that normally turn out at the polls. They’re the moderates my colleague Josh Trevino is decrying.
We saw this two years ago
when Mayor Gavin Newsom’s campaign organizers devoted the bulk of their efforts to absentee ballots making sure San Francisco’s white rich voters made their choice well ahead of the election. Unlike the “progressives” who turned out in the rain on election day, determined to save their city but voting unsuccessfully for a greasy-haired Green Party candidate, Newsom supporters came from the city’s newly rich neighborhoods, Noe and the Castro, as well as Pacific Heights and Presido Terrace. Those are neighborhoods of the city’s professionals: People who travel a lot on business or who work in Silicon Valley – a long commute, particularly when you need to beat a clock. For them, permanent absentee ballots is are only way to vote.
Interestingly, the rise in the use of permanent absentee ballots comes at the same time that California is seeing a steady increase in the number of independent voters. “None of the above” is the fastest-growing political party in California and it’s not a coincidence.


People who are outraged at the broken political process in this state aren’t sitting back – that’s one reason “none of the above” registrants are increasing – they’re voting. But many of those – a group I call Progressive libertarians – have a very civic-book approach to politics; they want change and they want it now. That’s why they supported Schwarzenegger. It’s what got them behind San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s candidacy.
They don’t like unions so they’re voting against Proposition 75 for that reason. But they’d like a better run state so they’re voting for Prop 76 which gives the governor’s office more veto power. They’re “no’s” on Prop 73, the measure requiring girls to get their parents’ permission for an abortion and since many of them are wealthy, they’re undecided or not voting on Prop. 79 (which has the unfortunate back-page placement on the ballot) and Prop. 78. They go between parties; they are not loyal to one side or the other. They’re behind Prop. 77, the measure to redistrict the state’s Congressional and legislative districts.
We’ve seen how effectively absentee balloting can work here in San Francisco. Newsom – whose main campaign platform was his insistence on changing how the city helped its homeless residents by dramatically reducing the cash subsidies they were paid – had won the mayor’s race in San Francisco before the sun came up on Election Day. It’s unlikely that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s show-down with the state legislature will end in the same way – too many folks, particularly the states’ old-line Democrats – still vote the old-fashioned way. But the times, and the balloting, are a-changing.
————————————————————————————
Josh started, but I’ll chime in, too. Here’s how I voted:
Prop 73 – No
Prop 74 – No
Prop 75 – Yes
Prop 76 – No
Prop 77 – Yes
Prop 78 – No
Prop 79 – No
Prop 80 – No

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