April 2 , 2007 - Preparation starting up for primary
Paper: Santa Maria Times (CA)
Title: Preparation starting up for primary
Date: April 2, 2007
California 's new February presidential primary may make the state more attractive to would-be candidates - both for its wealth and large population - but it's also changing the way local elections officials operate.
Earlier this month Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 113, which mandates California's presidential primary be held the first Tuesday in February. State officials say the move will give California a larger voice when choosing presidential candidates, but others say it merely opens the state's pocket books to campaign fundraising and could actually lead to more voter apathy.
According to the statute, only the presidential primary is moved; all other offices would remain on a June primary schedule.
So in 2008, Californians will head to the polls for three statewide elections - one primary in February, another in June, and a general election in November.
With two primaries, local elections offices will be busy, said Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Joe Holland, because primary elections are usually more time-intensive than general elections since they require ballots specific to political parties.
"Having a second primary does create a lot of work but we can do it," Holland said. "It's what we do."
San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder Julie Rodewald echoed Holland.
"People don't realize that the June primary is an election," she said.
"Obviously we are concerned about the overlap of work. Nominations for the June election start the week after the February primary," and it takes about a month to certify and complete an election, Rodewald noted.
The added election also brings more costs to each county. For Santa Barbara, the February primary could mean an additional $1.4 million in costs, Holland said.
For San Luis Obispo County, it's expected to cost about $580,000, Rodewald said.
Included in the Senate bill is language "stating the intent" of the state to pay for the added election cost in "an expeditious manner upon certification of those costs."
However, Rodewald pointed out that during the 2005 special election, when the state promised reimbursement, that money came "in the 11th hour."
"We didn't get that for almost a year," she said.
Holland said the state reimbursed Santa Barbara County $1 million for the 2005 special election.
"If the past is any indication, I am hopeful we will get reimbursed," he said.
With the primary about a year away, officials are just beginning to work on the logistics for an election that will probably see a lot of interest from voters and candidates, Holland said.
"I hope with the increased awareness we will see more people register and greater voter participation," he added.
Usually, primary elections see less voter turnout then general elections.
In Santa Barbara County, where there are 184,000 registered voters, the last presidential primary had a 55 percent turnout, Holland said. But for the last general election, there was an 80.4 percent turnout.
Rodewald noted that she is concerned the added primary may affect the turnout for the June primary, which will have some important local races.
Voter burnout is a very real possibility, said Dan Payne, a political science professor at Hancock College.
He pointed to the state's gain in population and decrease in voter registration as signs of diminishing participation.
"It's piqued my curiosity that so many Americans have gotten interested in this early campaigning, but I don't think they can sustain this level of interest for the next year," he said.
The new primary also means coordinating the hundreds of poll workers needed to run an election earlier, officials said, in addition to getting out all the sample ballots in December and absentee ballots in January.
In California, absentee voting is gaining popularity, Holland said, which means many voters will be making their choices 29 days before the Feb. 5 election day.
"We have about 90,000 permanent absentee voters, so half of our registered voters will get ballots around Jan. 6, 2008," Holland said, meaning some Californians will vote even before residents in New Hampshire or Iowa - though the results won't be known until February.
Moving up the primary has also seen a change in campaigning by the candidate hopefuls, said Rebecca Carey, a Santa Maria resident and delegate to the state Democratic Party.
"An early primary will change the whole dynamic," she said. "We are already seeing more time and money spent in California."
She noted it's exciting that California can be at the forefront of the process. However, coordinating precinct walking and other work may be more complicated with the campaign coming during the holidays.
Monte Ward, chairman of the Santa Barbara Republican Central Committee, said he doesn't think the early primary will make a difference - except financially.
"I think more (candidates) will come to the state and there will be more activity and it will last longer," he said, adding that California voters would be better served with reapportionment than an early primary.
Author: Malia Spencer/Senior staff writer
Copyright, 2007, Santa Maria Times, Santa Maria, CA