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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The “Reform” Election


What if California reformed its elections, but nobody showed up?

Today is Primary Election Day in California, and if you are receiving this email you are unlikely to be one of the more than 75% of Californians who are not voting. 

Scott Lay’s Nooner email will release the latest absentee numbers today, but the toplines show 2.25 million ballots cast 44% Dem, 38% Republican and 14% Decline to State.  Should be a very low turnout election.  Today’s Nooner will also include an analysis of turnout based on modeling from absentee votes.  Should be good reading for those nervous nellies out there.

The live-blogging of tonight’s results will be starting at 8pm on Scott’s site.  Visit www.aroundthecapitol.com/live/ now to sign up for an e-mail reminder before the event.   

And for the best election result you’re going to find, link to his results stream here: http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/results/  This insane results page will have not only the race results but also show the percentages by county so you can tell what part of the district is reporting.  It is all fed through the Secretary of State’s servers, so let’s just hope they don’t crash again.

There will be lots to cover, but here are the themes that I will be focusing on for the night:

Turnout: When voters get the shiny new redistricted lines they want, and the open primary system they apparently needed, how do they react?  The answer may be to stay at home and let the same high-propensity partisan voters decide the outcome.  The Field Poll puts turnout at record low 35% of registered voters or 6 million ballots.   We have pegged it even lower doing some modeling based on one-week and two-week absentee ballot returns. 

Our model was done to test out the possibility that one-week/two-week out returns can be used to predict turnout.  In that modeling we see 28%-30% turnout or just about 5 million voters. The model puts the by-mail  turnout rate at 40-41% of absentee voters and just 22% of poll voters.  We will see how this model holds up tonight!

Incumbent Watch: Assemblymembers Butler, Allen, Mansoor, Donnelly and Beth Gaines are all facing tough re-elections.  Rumor has one of them coming in third or fourth depending on the poll, so brace yourself .  Extra Innings: if any incumbent comes in second in the Redistricted lines then it is as if Redistricting killed them,  but the top two primary gave them extra life.  Unintended consequence of “reform?”

The Independents: There are 37 No Party Preference candidates on the ballot, and a couple will make it to November just by happenstance.  But the real game-changing NPPs would be Congressional candidates Anthony Adams, Chad Condit and Linda Parks, or Assembly Candidate  Mark Green.  Those are the former Republican / Democratic heavy hitters and elected officials who have taken the NPP route strategically to try and win under the new rules.  Big wins would be seen as a predictor of future NPP opportunities, big losses could shut that door.

Not Moderates: When the open primary passed, groups throughout Sacramento were eying those ultra-conservative Republicans and ultra-liberal Democrats for potential defeat.  But once you get both parties on the ballot the math of the open primary suggests that some of these contests, like Tim Donnely’s re-election or Jackson/Hodge senate race, will not be about candidates running to the middle, but running to the extremes of their Party.  Without a top two election of the same party in November, these contests will likely be won/lost in June.

Pulling a Bill Simon:  The Davis re-election campaign famously “picked” Simon as their opponent by hitting Riordan in the closing weeks of the campaign.  This strategy was rarely done in the old primary, but seems to have a comeback in the Open Primary system.  Do business groups get Clute into the Senate Seat as a weaker opponent to Miller?   Does the Chamber get a Republican into the second spots to block Richard Alarcon or Julio Perez from advancing to the General?  Does CTA get lucky and sneak a Republican into the AD 46 race with Adrin Nazarian, blocking Brian Johnson from the General?

The Prelims: some races either don’t have more than two candidates or are straightforward enough that they can be seen as preliminary bouts instead of primaries.  Whoever comes out in second place is going to be doing all kinds of contortions to explain how November will be better.  Ones to watch are Joe Coto vs Jim Beall, Jerry Hill vs. Sally Leiber, Morell v. Warner, Zink v. Pavley, and on the Congressional side, Bera v. Lungren, McNerney v. Gill, Stark v. Swalwell, Baca v. McLeod, and of course, Berman v. Sherman.

The Party-Splitters:  One of the theories about the open primary is that voters in, as an example, the Berman/Sherman district would realize that the Republican has no chance to get elected, so Republicans may as well vote for one of the Democrats.  (To me this is like suggesting that if you take a Vegetarian to a steak house they should order the chicken because it is better than steak…  and they ain’t gonna get no salad.  Ask most vegetarians and they will tell you they’re just gonna skip that dinner.)

But from election night results we should be able to see some signs of party hopping.  If an Assembly race has 28% projected Rep Turnout but the solo republican candidate only gets 9% of the vote then you know something fishy is going on.  Where will this happen?  Will it be more pronounced in areas like San Diego and Silicon Valley with more independent-minded voters? 

Master of his Domain: Maldonado wrote the open primary and backed Redistricting reform to kill the ribbon of shame and get the district he wanted. How's that working out for him?

All Politics is Local: Everyone with a political heartbeat seems fascinated with Nathan Fletcher, but all the polling shows Carl DeMaio sailing into first, and Filner can count on some undecided Democrats coming home to him today.  That should settle things unless Nathan has an amazing turnout operation to capture that enthusiasm from non-traditional voters.  

The Final Intra-Party Tally:  Ever since Prop 14 was written some observers have noted the unequal impact on Democrats and Republicans.  A private Redistricting Partners memo has predicted 19 Intra-Party Democratic legislative and congressional Races and 4-intra Party Republican Races.  That could be higher or lower, but no matter what it will be dramatically unequal.  The large number of Dem on Dem races in places like Santa Monica and Marin will force Labor, Environmentalists, Consumer Attorneys, the LGBT community and others to, for the first time in modern history, spend General Election Dollars at home.  This could starve pick-up seats in the Central Valley, Inland Empire and Riverside and hand an advantage to the Republicans.  This could be the biggest story of the night – just don’t know when the media is going to start explaining that.