Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Independent voters and the CA primary

Did you know that in the state of California, a person who declines to state their political party when they register to vote has to ask for a Democratic ballot to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in next weeks primary? Who knew? I had no idea.

I know a good number of people who have changed their voter registration to "decline to state" in a sort of quiet protest expressing their disappointment or anger with the actions of the current Congress, but most of them would lean toward Democratic candidates, given the choice. I know a few disgusted Republicans who can say the same. There are others who just see themselves as independent folks, and don't want to affiliate themselves with any party. And really now, who can blame them for that? There's also those who will swing to either party, and their votes have to be won, one way or another. But when all is said and done, DTS voters overall tend to be less engaged in politics, and are less likely to vote .

Today the NY Times weighed in on the difficulty in reaching "Decline to State" voters, and the possibility of those voters pushing one candidate or another over the top. . . or not.

In the 2004 presidential primary, out of 2.5 million independent residents registered to vote — their party affiliation is officially listed as “decline to state” — only 207,000 voted for a Democratic presidential candidate, or 8 percent of all votes cast that year, according to figures from the California Secretary of State.

There are a few hurdles to getting DTS voters engaged AND voting. The fact they have to ask for a Democratic ballot to vote for a Democratic candidate is one more bump on that road.

It is also true that decline-to-state voters must be quite motivated — and knowledgeable — to cast a ballot in the Democratic primary. The voters must ask for a Democratic ballot at their polling station; otherwise, they are provided with a nonpartisan ballot that has statewide measures only.

And if they vote by mail, as a great many Californians do, these voters must request a Democratic ballot in writing.

“If you do nothing, you get a nonpartisan ballot,” Mr. DiCamillo said. “That is a proactive step that is a hurdle.”

County registrars are supposed to inform the independent voters that they have a right to a Democratic ballot, but each does so differently, leaving many voters with no idea they can participate in the primary.

“We do get people after an election saying, ‘I wanted to vote a partisan ballot, and I got this nonpartisan ballot,’ ” said Steve Weir, the vice president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

According to statistics provided by the California Secretary of State's website, DTS voters make up 19% of registered voters. That's a sizable block of people, and the fastest growing registered group in California, and I think efforts to reach out to them is a great idea. Any candidate would naturally covet that voting bloc, and anything that encourages voting and boosts turnout is a-ok in my book.

State Democratic Party officials said they did the best they could with a limited budget and competing interests. Separately from the party efforts, the Courage Campaign, a so-called 527 group, plans to call or e-mail 300,000 registered decline-to-state voters in California to remind them that they can vote Democratic.

For more information on the subject, check out the Courage Campaign website. They have more than you ever thought you needed to know about DTS voting on their handy dandy and very comprehensive FAQ page.


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