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The Bowen Effect: San Diego Pushes Absentee and the Primary Effect

by: Lucas O'Connor

Tue Aug 07, 2007 at 08:26:24 AM PDT

In response to the potential "logistical nightmare" of counting ballots by hand in February's primary election, San Diego county is starting a huge push for absentee voting.  Reported today in the Union-Tribune, San Diego County's registrar of voters will send out postcards to more than 1 million voters pushing the absentee option, hoping to offset the number of paper ballots cast on election day.  This, of course, is in response to Secretary of State Debra Bowen's ruling that only one touch screen machine per polling place would be allowed following her extensive study of potential security problems.

While San Diego has a particular love affair with Diebold which sets it apart from many other parts of the state (Diebold is, by contract, required to replace any decertified machines), it seems unlikely that it will be only San Diego that makes this sort of push for absentee voting.  So what does this mean?

Lucas O'Connor :: The Bowen Effect: San Diego Pushes Absentee and the Primary Effect
It means that absentee ballots would start being mailed to a huge portion of California on January 7.  What is the significance of January 7? It's exactly one week before the current date of the Iowa Caucus and the beginning of the primary voting season.  In 2004's presidential primary, 34.31% of votes were absentee, and in 2006 that number in the primary jumped to 46.9%.  So if California sees a major jump in the number of absentee voters from 2006 and 2004 numbers, it could set California up as, in practical terms, the first state voting.

This is hardly a given.  Chris Bowers has a series of posts predicting that Iowa and New Hampshire could move into the end of 2007, in which case much of the traditional buzz from their events would remain influential.  But if not, early candidate impressions in California completely change the delegate math.  Almost 6.7 million ballots were cast absentee in 2004's primary, and simply a jump to 50% would mean that 9.75 million people voted absentee, largely without the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire performance (also, by the way, more than twice the combined populations of Iowa and New Hampshire).  That's a huge swing.  And so where are California's Democrats trending?  According to pollster, pretty strongly and consistently towards Hillary Clinton.

About a month ago on Calitics, Julia Rosen asked "Where is Obama's California Campaign?  In light of the early reactions to Secretary of State Bowen's decertification, the question may more specifically be, what's the absentee strategy?  If Californians are voting in mid-January, all previous bets are off and maybe the state actually gets all that presidential love and attention it's been lusting after.  The impact on the conventional wisdom and the cable news won't be immediate because these votes won't enter the public consciousness until February 5 along with all of the votes cast at the polls.  So Iowa, New Hampshire, and all pre-national primary states will still get the attention and the glory.  But if the biggest prize has already been awarded, February 5th becomes much less about hype and much more about the early action.  And depending on how it manifests itself, it's probably not such a bad thing to have people vote on the candidates and not the media hype out of Iowa and New Hampshire.

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well (0.00 / 0)
Just because people receive their ballots in early January that does not mean that they will return them then. I have not seen any precise data on the dates people return ballots however a large percentage turns theirs in in the last few days. There will be an impact, but how much of one?

That's certainly true (0.00 / 0)
But it opens the window earlier, which has a ripple effect.  And like I said, 50% seems like a completely possible number, in which case the absentee voters of California would outnumber the total populations of Iowa and New Hampshire more than 2-1. It'd also line up as almost the same number of voters as the total combined population of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.  So regardless, it's a huge chunk of voters.

[ Parent ]
Identifying early voters has dividends (0.00 / 0)
Just because people receive their ballots in early January that does not mean that they will return them then. I have not seen any precise data on the dates people return ballots however a large percentage turns theirs in in the last few days. There will be an impact, but how much of one?

Potentially quite a lot.  And if we're smart, it will work for us.

Vote-by-mail has some interesting characteristics.  Remember that the working poor (and a lot of the middle class) are extremely time-poor, and a number of the Republican Anti-GOTV tactics work on this principle: under-order voting machines or ballots, over-subscribe places of voting, and force people who do not have time to wait to choose between voting and keeping their jobs.  So there are big advantages to promoting vote-by-mail to people who really risk something by showing up to vote on Election Day.

It also allows us to change the way that GOTV works, by spreading it over a month-long period.

So we need to know the stats, but we also need to change them, by identifying supporters early and encouraging them to vote early, and even volunteer to help get other people to vote early.

[ Parent ]
Interesting (0.00 / 0)
I would be curious as to what degree early absentee voters will correlate to certainty about a candidate. If I were wild about Hillary (a big if, but bear with me) I'd be more likely to send my ballot off the day I got it than I would if I were unsure of who I supported.

So what may actually happen is that those who vote later will be those who are least certain of their choice, and want to see how the first primaries shake out. Which is probably how I will approach it - wait and see whether Edwards or Obama is in a better position to knock out Hillary, and vote accordingly.

In terms of strategy, this suggests a three-pronged approach is needed. The candidates need to ensure that their most highly motivated and committed supporters vote early (so that they don't get disillusioned by a bad result in IA or NH or wherever). They also need to ensure that they do well in those early primaries, so that they can use that as they focus on winning over those undecided voters who have left their absentee ballot on the kitchen table, not yet ready to choose.

CA may well be the endgame, then, the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

What's most interesting (0.00 / 0)
For the electoral nerd in me as well as because of the implications, is that California is now set up in such a way that, as you mention, candidates MUST have a three-pronged approach to how they reach out to voters. They've got to have different messages for before, during, and after the early votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

[ Parent ]
Absolutely (0.00 / 0)
And that's why the absence of a major Obama presence in CA is going to be a serious, perhaps fatal problem for his campaign. Without it they're going to have a hard time getting people to fill out their ballots early, and a hard time rallying undecided voters to their side after Obama's showing in the IA and NH contests.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
YES (0.00 / 0)
This rules! I was a little hesitant on VBM initially but I've switched over to completely loving it. Mainly it gives field programs 30 days to run chases, which is a huge huge huge advantage, although only if your strategy takes the calendar into account. The good news is that most of the campaigns I'm seeing ARE taking this into account now. Opening day of voter hunting season starts January 9th!

And don't count the Obama camp out yet folks. Keep in mind that the my.barack toolset was exactly the right thing to deploy if you wanted to capture & generate lots of early energy - to be used for something else later, maybe!

I'm the project director and statewide organizer for California VoterConnect.

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