http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2008/01/11/voting-changes


DanvilleSanRamon.com

Perspective - January 11, 2008

Voting changes

Two things in recent years have changed elections in California dramatically. One is the movement toward absentee balloting. The other is that voters who "decline to state" their political affiliation can now vote in primaries.

Before 1978, registered California voters needed medical or out-of-town excuses to vote absentee. But the tides have turned, with election boards recognizing the cost savings of absentee ballots. In 2001, a law made it possible for any Californian to register as a permanent absentee voter, and last year the program was renamed "vote-by-mail." The state's vote-by-mail numbers rose from 24 percent in the November 2000 election to 41.5 percent in the statewide election six years later.

County elections officials began mailing ballots to permanent vote-by-mailers on Monday, 29 days before the Feb. 5 primary. The last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot for the February primary is Jan. 29. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. close of polls on Election Day.

The fastest growing portion of the California electorate is those registered as "decline-to-state," which was at 19.33 percent Dec. 7, up from 16.28 percent in January 2004.

Until a little more than 10 years ago, the disadvantage in declining to state was not being eligible to vote in the primary elections. In 1996, Proposition 198 changed primaries to be open so all voters could vote for any candidate; however, this was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because it "violated a political party's First Amendment right of association." Now decline-to-state voters can vote in a party's primaries, if that party allows such voting in that specific election.

In the Feb. 5 primary, the Democratic Party is allowing votes from those who declined to state because, according to its spokesman, a lot of these voters "tend to have Democratic ideals and values." The hope is they will become invested in the Democratic candidates and vote for them again in November.

The Republican Party is not letting decline-to-state people vote for its candidates Feb. 5, reasoning that the presidential primary chooses delegates to the Republican National Convention so they should be chosen by party members. It will allow decline-to-state voters to cast Republican ballots in the June primaries.

As of Dec. 7, nearly 6.6 million Californians were registered Democrats; 5.2 million, Republicans; and nearly 3 million declined to state.

The most important thing to remember is Californians must register to vote for the Feb. 5 election by Jan. 22. Then, remember to vote.

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