Impact of Decline to State voters such as Juice founder Art Pedroza

Thanks to Ron Winship who sent me this old article from the SF Chronicle that can have a major impact on the 2008 presidential election. As it is three months old and not too long I am posting it in it’s entirety to not “slant” the message.


Dems welcome independent voters

John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writer

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

If California’s independent voters want a voice in next year’s presidential primary, they better start paying attention to Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and the rest of the Democratic candidates.

While the nearly 20 percent of California voters who register as decline to state will be welcome in the Democratic presidential primary, they will be barred from casting a ballot for any of the Republican presidential hopefuls.

“Since 1999, the state party rules have said that only Republicans can participate in its presidential primary,” said Jon Fleischman, a state party official who also runs a popular GOP political Web site. “The purpose of a primary is for party members to come together and decide who should represent them. If you don’t want to be involved as a party member, why should you vote?”

California Democrats have a different view of the proposed Feb. 5, 2008, presidential primary. Decline-to-state voters can simply request a Democratic ballot, either by mail or at the polls, and have their choice recorded alongside those of the party regulars.

“There are a lot of decline-to-state voters in this state who tend to have Democratic ideals and values,” said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the state party. “We’re happy to have them vote in our primary.”

Decline-to-state voters are the fastest-growing segment of the California electorate, particularly among young voters, and Republicans and Democrats desperately need the support of those independents to win in November.

An independent voter who had a chance to support a Democrat in the primary is likely to continue to back that candidate in the November general election when everyone can vote, Salazar said.

“We’d like to see those voters invested early in Democratic candidates,” he said. “That will help, come the general election.”

California Republicans recognize the political problems their party rules could cause, said Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the party.

“This is a big issue we’ve been discussing,” he said. “We’re taking a look at our bylaws and what impact there might be.”

The chance to vote in a presidential primary could be even more important in 2008 because the idea is for a stand-alone presidential primary. In years past, the primary election has included not only the presidential race, but also partisan legislative and congressional primaries, where Republicans allow independent voters to cast ballots, and a variety of initiatives and nonpartisan local contests, where all voters can join in.

But a presidential primary election in February, with the other measures remaining on the June ballot, changes everything. Although some nonpartisan ballot measures could show up in that new election, as it stands now the only reason an independent voter would turn out at the polls is to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate.

Closed party primaries aren’t fair to independent voters, who are forced to vote in November for candidates they weren’t allowed to choose, said Steven Hill, director of the political reform program for the nonpartisan New America Foundation.

“All taxpayers have to pay for this primary election, but 20 percent of the voters can’t be involved,” he said. “Unless the parties want to pay for the elections themselves, they shouldn’t be private affairs. We need to get back to the point of view of the voters, not what’s good for the political parties.”

A number of states have solved the primary voting problem by virtually ignoring the parties. In 21 states, including Washington, Idaho, Illinois, Ohio, Texas and Virginia, voters don’t register by party, but merely vote whatever party’s ballot they choose on election day.

“We don’t even have a list of party members in our state, but that’s never been a concern,” said Michael King, a spokesman for the Washington Democratic Party. “The more people who can participate in our primary, the better.”

That hasn’t stopped the political jostling, however. In Oregon, for example, there’s a continuing effort to open the primary elections to all comers, while in Idaho, a move is afoot to require voters to register by party and close the elections to party members only.

California Democrats also have had their problems with completely open primaries. In 1996, voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 198, which allowed any voter — Democrat, Republican or independent — to vote for any candidate, with the top two finishers, regardless of party, meeting in the general election.

But the state Democratic Party spearheaded an effort to quash that vote. A 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision, California Democratic Party vs. Jones, overturned Prop. 198, ruling that political parties could decide who can participate in their functions.

Leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties argue that opening the primaries to anyone cleared the way for partisan mischief on election day.

“We’re not interested in having Republicans come in and mess with our primary,” Salazar said.

Independent voters, however, are another matter.

“Our goal is to increase Democratic voter registration,” Salazar said. “If we can let independent voters know they’re welcome, maybe the next time they re-register, they will check the ‘D’ box.”

About Larry Gilbert