Vot­ing in state is dif­fer­ent this year

Here’s how it may im­pact your bal­lot

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Casey Tolan

Af­ter months of cam­paign­ing, dra­matic ups-and-down in the polls, and a bar­rage of TV ads blan­ket­ing our air­waves, Cal­i­for­nia’s 2020 pres­i­den­tial pri­mary is fi­nally here.

All Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties are re­quired by Mon­day to be­gin send­ing vot­ers mail-in bal­lots, which means your bal­lot is headed to your mail­box just as Iowans gather to cau­cus in the first con­test of the pri­mary cam­paign. Most of the Golden State’s 20 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers are ex

pected to vote by mail, mak­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s elec­tion day more like an elec­tion month that kicks off right now.

Un­like the past two pres­i­den­tial pri­maries, Cal­i­for­nia will vote in March, just af­ter the first four early states — giv­ing the state with the big­gest cache of del­e­gates even more im­pact on the White House race. Here’s what you need to know to vote, in case you’ve been try­ing your best to avoid pay­ing at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics:

WHEN IS THE ELEC­TION, AND WHEN DO I NEED TO REG­IS­TER? >> Cal­i­for­nia and a dozen other states hold their pri­maries on Super Tues­day, March 3. But mil­lions of vot­ers will cast their bal­lots be­fore then, ei­ther by mail or through in-per­son early vot­ing, which also starts Mon­day at county elec­tions of­fices.

The dead­line to reg­is­ter to vote in Cal­i­for­nia is Feb. 18, al­though vot­ers who miss that can still reg­is­ter and vote con­di­tion­ally at any polling place in their home county dur­ing early vot­ing or on elec­tion day, ac­cord­ing to the Sec­re­tary of State’s of­fice.

Vot­ers will choose leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sional can­di­dates in the state’s top-two pri­mary, set­ting up show­downs in Novem­ber for those races be­tween the top two fin­ish­ers, re­gard­less of their par­ties. But the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­mary will be by far the big­gest spec­ta­cle on the bal­lot.

WHO GETS TO VOTE IN THE DEMO­CRATIC PRES­I­DEN­TIAL PRI­MARY? >> You don’t have to be a reg­is­tered Demo­crat. No party pref­er­ence vot­ers — the fastest-grow­ing seg­ment of the elec­torate — can par­tic­i­pate too. If you vote in per­son, just ask for a Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial bal­lot at your polling place.

In­de­pen­dents who vote by mail, how­ever, were sup­posed to re­quest a Demo­cratic bal­lot in ad­vance — if you for­got to do that, you can still ask for a bal­lot from your county by email or phone. You can also go to your polling place on elec­tion day, sur­ren­der your mail-in bal­lot, and get a new Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial bal­lot there.

“You’ll have some­what over 5 mil­lion in­de­pen­dent vot­ers who, if they don’t fill that out, they’ll have a blank pres­i­den­tial bal­lot,” said Paul Mitchell, the vice pres­i­dent of the non­par­ti­san Cal­i­for­nia voter data firm Po­lit­i­cal Data, Inc.

The GOP only al­lows reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans to par­tic­i­pate in their pri­mary — but in­de­pen­dents prob­a­bly won’t be miss­ing much, as none of Trump’s lit­tle­known pri­mary chal­lengers have got­ten much trac­tion.

WHAT ELSE WILL BE NEW

THIS TIME? >> Sev­eral of the state’s coun­ties, in­clud­ing Santa Clara, San Ma­teo, Napa, Los Angeles, and Orange, are us­ing a new sys­tem that will mail a bal­lot to every voter, ex­pand in­per­son early vot­ing, and let vot­ers cast their bal­lot at any vote cen­ter in the county. San Ma­teo pi­loted the new pro­ce­dures — called the Voter Choice Act — dur­ing the 2018 midterms.

Vot­ers in those coun­ties can mail in the bal­lot they re­ceived or go to any vote cen­ter — in Santa Clara County, for ex­am­ple, there will be 22 lo­ca­tions open start­ing 10 days be­fore the elec­tion and 88 lo­ca­tions open­ing the week­end be­fore elec­tion day. Other Bay Area coun­ties will con­tinue to only send mail-in bal­lots to vot­ers who re­quest them.

Be­cause of the changes, there will likely be more votes cast by mail in Cal­i­for­nia than ever be­fore — Mitchell’s firm es­ti­mates that about 15 mil­lion of the state’s more than 20 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers will be get­ting vote-by­mail bal­lots sent to them next year. About 5 per­cent of vot­ers in the state will cast their bal­lots by the time of New Hamp­shire’s Feb. 11 pri­mary, 25 per­cent by Ne­vada’s Feb. 22 cau­cus, and more than 40 per­cent by South Carolina’s Feb. 29 pri­mary, ac­cord­ing to his pre­dic­tions.

WHY ARE WE VOT­ING SO EARLY THIS YEAR? >> The state leg­is­la­ture and for­mer Gov. Jerry Brown moved up the pri­mary from June to March in 2017. The point was to win Cal­i­for­nia more in­flu­ence af­ter sev­eral pres­i­den­tial pri­mary elec­tions in which the largest state was lit­tle more than an af­ter­thought.

So far, how­ever, Cal­i­for­ni­ans hop­ing that the pres­i­den­tial con­tenders would trade Iowa din­ers and New Hamp­shire pubs for Los Angeles taque­rias and San Fran­cisco wine bars can be sorely dis­ap­pointed.

Yes, con­tenders who may have pre­vi­ously only come to Cal­i­for­nia for fundrais­ers tacked a rally or pub­lic meet-and-greet onto their sched­ule. And sev­eral high­pro­file Demo­cratic con­ven­tions in the state last year turned into pres­i­den­tial can­di­date cat­tle-calls.

But the four early states have still eclipsed Cal­i­for­nia in their in­flu­ence on the race so far — even though we have more than dou­ble all their del­e­gates com­bined.

WHO’S LEAD­ING IN CAL­I­FOR­NIA? >> On av­er­age, the most re­cent Cal­i­for­nia polls have put Sen. Bernie Sanders on top, fol­lowed by Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den. A sec­ond tier of can­di­dates — for­mer South Bend Mayor Pete But­tigieg, en­trepreneur An­drew Yang, for­mer New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen.

Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota, and for­mer San Fran­cisco hedge fund chief Tom Steyer, have found them­selves in the mid-to-high sin­gle digits.

The pri­mary rules will make it hard for any sin­gle can­di­date to win a big ma­jor­ity of the state’s 495 del­e­gates. Most del­e­gates will be al­lo­cated based on how can­di­dates do in each con­gres­sional district, and only con­tenders who get at least 15 per­cent of the vote in a district will win any del­e­gates there.

But if only a cou­ple can­di­dates get over that 15 per­cent hur­dle and there’s lit­tle ge­o­graphic vari­a­tion in the Cal­i­for­nia re­sults, the lower tier con­tenders could be all but shut out of del­e­gates. Un­less some can­di­dates do bet­ter in cer­tain re­gions of the state, “this sys­tem mag­ni­fies the ad­van­tage the leader in the statewide polls has,” said Mark DiCamillo, di­rec­tor of the UC Berke­ley In­sti­tute of Gov­ern­men­tal Stud­ies poll.

IS THERE A WILD CARD IN THE RACE? >> The big­gest one in the pri­mary is Bloomberg, who’s dump­ing mil­lions of dol­lars of his own for­tune into tele­vi­sion ads. The for­mer mayor is tak­ing the un­usual strat­egy of skip­ping the first four early states and putting ev­ery­thing on Cal­i­for­nia and other Super Tues­day states. That means that whether Cal­i­for­ni­ans em­brace a bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man who was once a Repub­li­can will be key to his cam­paign.

No pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has made a blow-of­fIowa-and-New-Hamp­shire strat­egy work be­fore. But there’s also never been a se­ri­ous con­tender who’s been will­ing to spend at the scale Bloomberg seems pre­pared to — and his team has vowed to build the big­gest Cal­i­for­nia pres­i­den­tial pri­mary op­er­a­tion in his­tory. HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO KNOW WHO WON? >> Some po­lit­i­cal junkies still have PTSD from the nail-bit­ing vote counts af­ter the 2018 midterm elec­tions. In a half-dozen closely watched con­gres­sional races, the tal­ly­ing process stretched on for weeks, with sev­eral can­di­dates see­ing wide leads evap­o­rate as more bal­lots were counted.

The bad news is that it could take just as long or longer to fin­ish count­ing votes this time around, be­cause of the growth in mail-in vot­ing and new rules that make it eas­ier to vote early and reg­is­ter on elec­tion day. State lead­ers say it’s a sign of how Cal­i­for­nia is mak­ing it as easy as pos­si­ble to vote.

But while the re­sults may change a few points af­ter elec­tion day, ex­perts say it’s un­likely that there’ll be as wide a swing in the pres­i­den­tial pri­mary as in the 2018 con­gres­sional photo fin­ishes. “You’re not go­ing to see big, al­most dou­bledigit shifts from elec­tion night to the fi­nal re­sults,” Mitchell pre­dicted.

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