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In earlier installments, I commented on the cynical scheme state legislators are pursuing in the hope of extending their terms of office, using the Feb. 5 presidential primary as their cover, and the national impact that decision is having on the presidential primary process. I’ll finish up today’s blog with some observations about the impact of a Feb. 5 primary at the local level.

California, like other states, has experienced a difficult transition to touch-screen and other automated voting technologies. As a result of foul-ups in 2004, the secretary of state mandated changes, including hard-copy confirmations of each completed ballot that have been implemented over the past three years. New Secretary of State Debra Bowen has hinted there will be more fine-tuning before 2008. Her plans conflict with the needs of local registrars of voters who are struggling to come up with a strategy for conducting three major elections next year with existing equipment. As a result, there is potential for major logistic problems conducting next year’s elections.

On three other occasions in the past, the California Legislature has moved up the date of the presidential primary — 1996, 2000 and 2004 — but in each case they consolidated the presidential primary with the regular state (and local) primary election. They didn’t do that this year, for reasons of self-aggrandizement described earlier. The result is not just an extra $90 million in election costs, but also a major distortion in composition of the electorate for state and local elections.

Traditionally, the presidential primaries are a magnet in drawing voters to the polls and enhancing what would otherwise be very low turnout. With the presidential primary moved to February (and voters presumably fatigued after a first-of-the-year avalanche of presidential advertising), and only state and local issues on the June ballot, we can anticipate historically low turnout levels in primaries for open congressional, state legislative and city council seats. We’ll also have mayoral and county supervisor primaries. It’s anybody’s guess what the impact of super-low turnouts will be on those races, but it won’t be good.

TOM SHEPARD

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