- Associated Press - Sunday, May 8, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California elections clerks braced for an influx of work this year as they prepared for unexpectedly close presidential primary contests at the same time proponents readied petitions for dozens of measures hoping to qualify for the November ballot.

More than 20 campaigns are seeking to qualify initiatives this year because of a lower-than-usual threshold for signatures, including high-profile campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana use, restrict California’s gun-control laws and extend Gov. Jerry Brown’s increases on income and sales taxes.

The two events have left the state’s 58 county election clerks scrambling to register new voters, print more voter guides and hire additional workers to process all the signatures.

“It’s almost a perfect storm of activity,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla, whose job includes ensuring elections run smoothly for the state.

He asked the state for an extra $32 million to help; the Legislature approved half that and Brown signed off on it.

“We did anticipate and budget for a typical presidential year bump,” Padilla said. “What we have on our hands is far and above what we expected as far as excitement out there, energy out there.”

Many counties have hired temporary workers to help process the thousands of signatures coming in.

“It’s just really difficult timing. We haven’t seen something like this in decades, where you have all of these petitions hitting right before the primary like this,” said Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley, current chairman of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

Beyond the rush of printing voter information pamphlets, ballots and registration cards, there are a lot of rules to remind would-be voters about, some of them complicated: Democrats allow non-partisan voters to cast ballots in their race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but only if they mail back a little postcard to the county elections officer specifically requesting a Democratic ballot.

“It’s going to be huge block letters: ‘Here’s your registration,’ because the reality is there’s voters who pay attention every four years,” for the general presidential election, Kelley said.

Although there’s no contest remaining on the Republican side since businessman Donald Trump’s two remaining rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, dropped out, all three will remain on the California ballot.

Elections officials are also reminding Californians that they only have until May 23 to register and ensure their voter information is up to date.

As of January, the state has 17.3 million voters, and while Padilla’s office has not yet released updated figures, all counties have seen a surge this year.

Paul Mitchell, a consultant who runs the data tracking firm Political Data Inc., said data from 58 counties show more than 1 million voters have registered since January. Many of them are 25- to 30-year-olds who likely registered after they turned 18 then dropped off the voter rolls after they moved away from home.

Mitchell was bracing for a potentially record-high primary turnout, but with Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee, those expectations are off.

“Really a lot of voters are going to vote because they’re excited to,” he said. High-propensity voters will turn out as they always do, “then you have to add to that people who are hooting and hollering because they get to vote for Trump or Bernie or the first woman president.”

Those voters won’t really care that California’s primary is no longer relevant for the Republican or Democratic nomination, he said.

“And I think we’re going to see a record number of write-ins for Mickey Mouse,” Mitchell said. “There’s going to be a lot of Republicans who have not made peace with the presumptive Republican nominee and it’s going to be an open question: Do they vote for someone who’s already dropped out, do they write in someone, or do they just leave it blank?”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide