April 9, 2012 - Whole new ballot for primary
Paper: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Title: Whole new ballot for primary
Date: April 9, 2012
Author: Wyatt Buchanan
ELECTIONS - When Californians vote in the June 5 primary, they will see an entirely new kind of ballot that some hope will lead to changes in the types of candidates who are elected to public office.
For this first year, many voter advocates and elections officials say, they are just hoping to avoid mass confusion.
"I think it's going to be bewildering for voters," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. The new election process comes as voters will be choosing candidates in newly drawn districts, a result of the once-a-decade redistricting, she noted.
"We want to come up with shorthand tips for voters, but it's very difficult," Alexander said, adding that, for some, reading the ballot may be like facing a strange algebra question. County officials on Friday began sending the first vote-by-mail ballots to people living overseas or in the military.
What voters will see is a new "top-two" primary system, which was approved via ballot initiative, Proposition 14, in June 2010. Previously, primary ballots would be separated by party - with each party winner moving to the general election. Now, all candidates will be together on a single ballot, and only the top two vote-getters will move on to the November election regardless of party.
Writing in candidates is no longer allowed in the November election.
The open primary applies to candidates for Congress, the Legislature and statewide offices such as governor.
Candidates will be listed by their "party preference," though they can also choose to have "no party preference."
Some elections officials say it is analogous to an Olympic race in which the first heat determines who gets to compete in the final, and the competitors in the final could be from the same country. That means some November races could be between candidates of the same party, or candidates unaffiliated with either party.
"In the past, the party nominee would be their guy or gal in the final race," said Gail Pellerin, president of the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials and the Santa Cruz County clerk. "Now that power is in the hands" of all voters, she said.
There is one big exception, though, that will be in play this year. The presidential primary will be run as it has in the past, which means voters must be registered as a member of a specific party to vote for that party's nominees. Only candidates from one party will be on the ballot for president, opposite of the other races on the ballot.
To vote Republican A voter who wants to cast a ballot for one of the Republican candidates for president must be registered as a Republican by May 21, the last day to register to vote or change party affiliation.
Independent voters, previously classified as "decline-to-state" and now termed "no party preference" voters, will be able to cast ballots for the Democratic or American Independent Party candidates if they wish to do so. Those parties have notified the secretary of state that voters with no party preference can participate in their contests. All the others, including Republicans, declined to do that.
The ballots will look different from what voters are accustomed to. Sample ballots created by elections officials show the different races grouped by the new designation created for this primary system. That means voters will see three sections on their ballots: "party nominated" or "partisan" contests for president and county central committees; "voter-nominated" contests for Congress, the Legislature and statewide offices; and "nonpartisan" contests for judges and local officials.
Lianne Campodonico, voter service director for the California League of Women Voters, said the changes are somewhat confusing even for those who spend much time thinking about ballots.
"People are mystified," she said. "Even longtime league people who pay pretty close attention ... have a steep learning curve in trying to understand it."
She noted that there are only two propositions on the ballot, and said that may help voters to not feel too overwhelmed at the polls.
Overall, the changes will result in all voters having more candidates to choose among. That impact may be felt most by independent voters, who make up 21 percent of the electorate, according to the latest report from the secretary of state.
A 1st for independents "This will be their first experience where every single independent voter will get a say," said Steve Peace, co-chair of the Independent Voter Project, which wrote the ballot proposition that created the system. Peace is also a former Democratic state senator.
He said independent, or no-party-preference voters, have been ignored by candidates previously because they were not a factor in primary elections, and he said that led to many of those voters staying at home election day in November. One surprise so far, Peace said, is that about a dozen serious candidates are choosing the "no party preference" designation on the ballot, many of those in congressional races.
Duking it out "That's not something we anticipated," he said.
Another likely impact is more hotly contested general elections, said Jessica Levinson, a visiting associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School who is involved in political reform work. That's because districts with high numbers of people registered to one party could see two candidates from that party duke it out in November.
"Whereas before it was clearly going to be the Republican or Democrat who walks to victory after the primary, now I think ... there will be a real dogfight in the general," she said.
Key primary election dates: April 6: County election officials began sending the first vote-by-mail ballots to people living overseas or in the military.
May 7: County election officials send vote-by-mail ballots to their regions.
May 21: Last day to register to vote or change party affiliation.
May 29: Last day to apply with the county for a vote-by-mail ballot.
June 5: Election day. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. All vote-by-mail ballots must be received by county officials by 8 p.m. and can be dropped off at any polling station.
Memo: Wyatt Buchanan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
Index Terms: METRO;ELECTIONS;VOTER REGISTRATION;PRIMARIES
Location(s): Sacramento, CA, USA;Sacramento;CA;USA;38.5815719;-121.4943996;1;0;0;USA;CALIFORNIA;SACRAMENTO;SACRAMENTO
Record Number: TJ1NVGBS
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