May 6, 2012 - Voters face changes at ballot box
Paper: Santa Maria Times (CA)
Title: Voters face changes at ballot box
Date: May 6, 2012
Author: Bo Poertner/Associate Editor
Whether you’re voting by mail or stepping into a booth to cast your ballot in the June 5 primary election, you’ll see names of candidates from political parties that until now would not have appeared on your ballot.
California’s primaries will be wide-open, nonpartisan affairs this year as a result of Proposition 14, an amendment to the state Constitution that was approved by voters in 2010.
As a result, for example, the ballot for the 24th Congressional District, which now includes all of Santa Barbara County, will list Congresswoman Lois Capps, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, alongside Republicans Abel Maldonado, of Santa Maria, and Chris Mitchum, of Santa Barbara.
The two who garner the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, will face off in the Nov. 6 general election — even if one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
Under the old rules, Capps would not have participated in the primary because she is the only Democrat running. Maldonado and Mitchum would have competed in the primary with the winner competing against Capps in November.
Additionally, candidates from all qualified parties such as Democratic, Republican, American Independent, Libertarian, and the Peace and Freedom party, will appear on a single combined ballot.
Jennifer Dolan, first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Santa Maria Valley, said the open primary should result in more moderate candidates making it to the general election.
Previously, primaries were conducted within the various parties because of a fear that crossover voters would attempt to get the opposing party’s weakest candidate on the ballot, Dolan said.
The process, she said, often resulted in the most extreme candidates competing in the general election.
The changes create a process that is fairer and gives voters a greater voice in elections, Dolan said.
“The two people left standing might both be Republican or might both be Democrats, depending on what the constituency believes,” she said. “The League wants fairness, and that people’s votes really mean something, that the voters are getting what the true majority wants. ... That’s what a free democratic process means, that everybody gets to be heard.”
Prop. 14 was authored by Maldonado, of Santa Maria, and was approved by voters by a 54-percent margin.
“I wrote the proposition to allow 3.5 million ‘declined to state’ voters and independents to participate in the primary,” Maldonado said.
The amendment created the “Top-Two Primary Act,” which recognizes three types of elections:
The June 5 primary falls into this category —all voters regardless of party preference can vote for any candidate. Voter-nominated contests include statewide races for positions such as governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general and for state Senate seats.
The presidential race and county Central Committee races fall into this category and remain partisan races. Only voters registered with the same party as the candidate can vote. Central committees are the governing bodies of political parties, such as Democratic and Republican.
These are county and local races in which no political party nominates a candidate. All voters can participate, regardless of party affiliation. They include city and county offices, school districts, special districts and Superior Court judges and Superintendents of Public Instruction.
As in past elections, races such as those for county supervisor will appear on the ballot by district.
If you live in Lompoc or Orcutt, for example, you’ll find candidates for the District 4 supervisorial race on your ballot. In Mesa Oaks, Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village in the Lompoc Valley and other areas, such as the Santa Ynez Valley, District 3 candidates will be on the ballot.
Unlike the state and congressional races, a candidate can win a local race outright and avoid a runoff in November by getting more than 50 percent of the total vote. If none of the candidates receive a majority, the top two vote-getters compete in the general election.
“The ballot itself is basically in a similar format that voters are used to seeing,” said Renee Bischos, chief deputy registrar of voters for Santa Barbara County.
Ballots will be a little longer, though.
If you are a Democrat or Republican, for example, your ballot will include the names of 24 candidates running for the U.S. Senate from California — not just from your party but from all qualified parities.
The presidential race will be handled somewhat differently on the primary ballots. Parties can decide whether to allow “crossover” voting in their presidential primary.
Only the Democratic and the American Independent parties are doing this, and allowing “no preference voters” to participate, said Billie Alvarez, chief deputy registrar of voters for Santa Barbara County.
That means that Republicans, American Independent and other parties can participate in the Democrat presidential primary, although President Barack Obama is running uncontested.
The Republican Party isn’t allowing non-Republican voters to participate in its primary.
“If you wanted to vote Republican, you would have to register as Republican,” said Alvarez. “You could always change it back after that.”
If you are not registered with a party and intend to participate in the primary you fall under a new classification — “no party preference.”
Prior to this year, the term was “decline to state,” and essentially it meant that you considered yourself an independent voter and wanted to register without affiliation.
As a result of Prop. 14, voters that “decline to state” will no longer be eliminated from voting in the primaries of qualified parties.
Santa Barbara County now has 187,799 registered voters. Of those, 77,884 are registered Democrat and 60,418 are registered Republican.
Of the several smaller qualified parties, the American Independent Party has the most registered voters, 4,629.
The county also has 39,850 voters registered under “no party preference.”
Caption: Angela Richey, right, supervisor of the vote-by-mail process, prepares ballots for mailing with lead assistants Kelly Firth and Ramon Alcocer at the County Elections office in Santa Barbara. Proposition 14, approved by voters in 2010, changed the way elections and ballots will be presented for most statewide races beginning this year. Section: Local News
Record Number: e9b0d9b5a4dc823e3aea6f6ccafb7ab1bc1a58
Copyright, 2012, Santa Maria Times, Santa Maria, CA