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It's the early vote that counts
California moves up its primary now it's up to us to make a difference

Date: 01/16/2008

When the nation's most populous state moved up its presidential primary to Feb. 5, Super Tuesday suddenly became Super-Duper Tuesday, or, as some pundits dubbed it, Tsunami Tuesday.

But it's whether we turn out in the kind of numbers that reflect our over-sized population that will make the difference.

This year, California will hold its primary Feb. 5 in what's called a bifurcated election instead of its regular June primary. Elections for other offices still will take place in June.


Voting for presidential nominees in June in previous years left many Californians feeling like a large part of the contest already was over by the time they reached the polls, especially with the increasing numbers of states that already were moving up their primary dates.

Already this year, Democratic hopeful Bill Richardson withdrew from the race after just two primaries this month in states with very small voter numbers compared to California. Imagine what the roster would look like had California waited until June.

By moving the primary to February, "It will be the first time since 1968 that California has a say in who the presidential candidates will be," Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Joe Holland said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation last March that separated the presidential primary from the general primary and moved this bifurcated election to Feb. 5.

He made the move, he said, because he wanted California to have a bigger influence on the election. He also said he believed moving the primary early in California would force the candidates to focus on the issues to inform the state's voters rather than eyeing California as a fundraising opportunity.

"As the most populous state in the nation, California voters should have a far greater voice in determining who earns their party's nomination," Schwarzenegger wrote in his March signing statement.

A wide-open contest

Altogether, 22 states are holding their primaries on the same date as California.

"It'll be interesting to see what happens in what looks like a wide-open contest right now," Holland said.

Harriet Tower, president of the Santa Maria Valley League of Women Voters, also believes California should have more impact with its earlier primary. She said it's always important for people to get out and vote.

However, despite such a big focus on the results of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, Tower said Californians should not be overly influenced.

"It's really silly because it's a small number of votes and that is supposed to influence voters in other states," Tower said.

Tower said there is an overemphasis on the decision of early voting states. "I don't feel that we should have so much presidential candidate rhetoric so early," she said.

Much ado has been made about the presidential candidates in the primaries however, voters will face choices other than just their parties' candidates.

Besides the presidential contest, San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder Julie Rodewald reminds voters that there are some local and state ballot measures that will appear in the same election.

"In my opinion it's always important to vote. People think the primary doesn't count, but there are several state ballot measures in the election that could really impact the way the state works," Rodewald said.

Allan Hancock College Superintendent/President Jose M. Ortiz said a proposition affecting community college tuition will have an important effect on the state's community college system.

"It's always important for people to get out and vote no matter what the issue it's a reflection of our democracy. It's important right now for people affected by community colleges to get out and vote," Ortiz said.

Proposition 92 will help to stabilize the funding that California community colleges need as well as decreasing and stabilizing the amount of fees community college students pay.

"In the end when you stabilize funding and the fees, you're really talking about creating more opportunity for students to go to community college," Ortiz said.

Ortiz said that community colleges in California serve 2.5 million students while the UC system serves approximately 180,000 students and the CSU system serves about 380,000 students.

"We in fact serve the vast majority of higher education students in the state and we're way under-funded," he said.

Besides the community colleges, other areas will be impacted locally. Measure S will authorize a property tax that will fund Santa Barbara County Emergency Services, and the Lompoc Police Department hopes to get more police officers and firefighters with its measure.

The primary price tag

While having a say in who will become the next president of the United States and voting on measures that impact the state and local community are important, there's still another reason to get out and vote.

Holland said that ballots have already been created for each registered voter, adding to the election expense. "If you're registered to vote, you might as well follow through," Holland said.

Holland said it's estimated that the early primary election will cost between $90 million and $100 million statewide. Holland's office estimates that Santa Barbara County's election alone will cost around $1.5 million.

"Elections aren't cheap, but then democracy isn't cheap. It's important for people to take advantage of the election process we put in place for them," Holland said.

Holland said the county's expense should be reimbursed by the state during the next fiscal year as part of the measure that moved the primary to February.

The expense might be well worth it, since Central Coast voters seem to have a grasp on the importance on their role in a democracy, and measurably so.

Holland and Rodewald both said their counties have a history of strong voter turnout during the primaries, especially the presidential primary.

Holland said that Santa Barbara County consistently ranks in the top two or three counties in the state in voter turnout. Primarily that's because of votes by mail.

More than half of Santa Barbara County voters vote by mail. Of those vote-by-mail residents, about 75 percent of them actually vote, compared to 52 percent of voters who turn out to vote at the polls in Santa Barbara County, Holland said.

"We expect over 60 percent of the votes cast will be from people who vote by mail," Holland said.

Overall, Holland expects about a 70 percent turnout for the Feb. 5 election.

In San Luis Obispo County, election officials expect most voters also will heed their call of duty, especially for this election.

"Presidential primaries usually have a higher voter turnout," Rodewald, of the San Luis Obispo County Elections Office, said.

Local politicians have encouraged voters to recognize their vote as a right and privilege.

"Voting is the solemn right, privilege, and civic duty of every citizen," state Assemblymen Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, told the Sun in a statement. "Voting is the lifeblood of a functioning democracy."

State Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, agreed. "The right to vote in free and fair elections is one of our nation's most esteemed values," Maldonado said in a statement to the Sun.

"By voting, we become active participants not only in the political process, but in our future as well. Your vote is your voice. It cannot be silenced or ignored," Maldonado said.

The opportunity to use that voice is now. Voting by mail already is under way.

Election workers stress the importance of getting out and voting regardless of party affiliation. However, there are some important things to note. "Decline to State" voters are voters who decline to list themselves as members of a registered political party and won't have the opportunity to vote for some candidates.

Only Democrats and Independents will allow "Decline to State" voters to vote in their primary. Voters have until Jan. 22 to register, change their address, or change their party affiliation.


SIDEBAR: On the ballot for 2008


Transportation or bust: Proposition 91 would prohibit the use of state funds earmarked for transportation projects for non-transportation uses as of July 2008.

Not-so-starving students: Proposition 92 would lower the cost of college, decreasing the cost community college students pay from $20 to $15 per course credit, while simultaneously limiting future fee increases.

Legislators' new limits: Proposition 93, a term limit measure, would lower the number of years a state legislator can serve from 14 years to 12 years.

More slot machines: Propositions 94 through 97 would allow four Southern California Indian bands to operate thousands of additional slot machines.

Each tribe would be required to make annual payments and also pay a certain percentage of revenues generated by the additional slot machines to the state. The amendments also would exempt certain tribal gaming projects from the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.



Possible school makeover: Measure R would authorize the Cold Spring School District in Santa Barbara to issue $8.75 million in bonds to repair, renovate, and modernize Cold Spring School.

Code green: Measure S would approve a property tax of $35.15 per parcel of property to help fund Santa Barbara County's Emergency Medical Services Network and Trauma System.

Safety first: Measure T would allow the city of Lompoc to collect a one-half cent sales tax to hire additional public safety staff, and fund the wages and benefits of all Lompoc police officers and firefighters.

Funds would also go toward building a new fire station, expanding the current police station, and purchasing new public safety equipment.

- Amy Asman

Contact Arts Editor Shelly Cone at scone@santamariasuncom

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