June 2, 2012 - Tuesday's state primary election all about changes
Source: The Fresno Bee
Title: Tuesday's state primary election all about changes
Date: June 2, 2012
By: John Ellis - The Fresno Bee
Tuesday's election could be one for the ages.
It certainly has all the ingredients, from new districts to a new way to choose elected officials to 423 different ballots in Fresno County alone.
Some political experts acknowledge the election's possible historic status, the first using districts drawn by a citizens commission instead of by politicians, and also one in which the top two finishers in many races -- regardless of political party -- will advance to the November general election.
"We may look back years from now at 2012 as the year in which California politics began on the path toward functioning the way it is supposed to," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.
If nothing else, local election officials are determined to make things go as smoothly as possible -- especially after the controversy surrounding the November 2010 election. Diane Merrill, left, and Liz Shields, right, both volunteers with the League of Women Voters, unfold absentee ballots, as observer Sue Deming, with the Tea Party, watches Thursday morning at the Fresno County Elections Warehouse.
Then-Fresno County Clerk Victor Salazar said budget cuts forced him to dramatically reduce the number of polling places, which resulted in long lines and allegations of voter disenfranchisement.
New Clerk Brandi Orth has more than doubled the number of polling stations since that election -- from 114 to 262.
And with close to half of voters signed up to vote by mail, Orth said "we do not anticipate lines."
The county issued 173,577 mail ballots as of Thursday morning, and close to 36,500 had been returned.
Orth is predicting a 37% turnout for Fresno County, which would be above the turnout percentage in the past two primary elections.
There is some question about turnout, though, with some observers expecting it to be on the low side because there are only two ballot initiatives -- and neither have generated much attention -- and Republican Mitt Romney already has earned enough electoral votes to capture the Republican presidential nomination.
Still, political wonks are excited about the changes -- and they're hoping the public catches election fever as well.
The biggest changes for voters are that this is the first election under new district boundaries, as well as the "top two" primary.
A citizens commission redrew the lines for congressional, Assembly and state Senate districts, and Fresno County supervisors and the Fresno City Council have also rejiggered their districts to accurately reflect updated population numbers.
For instance, under the old lines, Reps. Jeff Denham, Jim Costa and Devin Nunes split the city of Fresno, with Denham and Costa each representing 40% of the city and Nunes the remaining 20%.
Now, Costa and Nunes will split the city about 50-50. Denham's district is now all the way up in Stanislaus County.
Potentially even bigger is the "top two" primary, in which the top two vote-getters in a race advance to the November general election -- regardless of political party.
This new rule applies to state Assembly, state Senate, U.S. House and U.S. Senate -- and will apply to governor and other state offices when they are up for election in 2014.
One race where the new primary rules could come into play is the new 23rd Assembly District, where Fresno attorney David DeFrank, Clovis Planning Commissioner Vong Mouanoutoua, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson, union organizer Richard Rojas and Clovis Council Member Bob Whalen are vying to replace Linda Halderman.
Rojas is the lone Democrat; the other four are Republicans.
In this GOP-leaning district, there is a possibility that two Republicans could finish 1-2 -- and face off in November.
The one definite is that ballots will have a different look. In fact, depending on where a voter lives in Fresno County, their ballots will be vastly different.
For example, a Republican voter on the 600 block of West Dovewood Avenue in Fresno has eight contested races and two statewide ballot initiatives to decide. Among them: U.S. Senate, Fresno mayor, City Council District 2, Fresno County Board of Supervisors District 2 and Assembly District 23.
A Democratic voter on the 600 block of 4th Avenue in Kingsburg has just two contested races -- U.S. Senate and 21st Congressional District -- and the two statewide ballot initiatives.
There are 47 different ways that political races mix, depending on where a voter lives.
Then add in nine different political parties, each of which features party-specific elections for president and county party central committees.
That makes for 423 different ballots in Fresno County. "Our challenge is to make sure each voter gets the correct ballot for them," Orth said.
Already, there seems to be confusion with the new primary election system.
In the U.S. Senate race, in which incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein and 23 others are running, Orth noticed in some early mail-in ballots that two or more candidates were marked.
Said Orth: "The message is, vote for one, even though it is top two [primary]."
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