Short-sighted GOP policy will drive the Democratic vote |

Short-sighted GOP policy will drive the Democratic vote

Want a clue to how the November elections will turn out, at least in California?The best thing to do is check out the vote totals for each political party in next month’s presidential primary. For it is a well-established pattern of political behavior that voters who cast ballots in the primary election of either major political party will almost always vote for that party’s nominee in the fall runoff election that follows.That’s one reason the welcoming policy of California’s state Democratic Party will likely assure that this state stays in the Democratic column in the fall.For while Democrats will allow anyone now registered as an independent, decline-to-state-party-affiliation voter to cast a ballot in their presidential primary, Republicans will not. Their frequently expressed philosophy of primary voting is that only Republicans should have a voice in choosing Republican candidates.Meanwhile, even a quick look at the latest voter registration figures shows that decline-to-state is by far the fastest growing category of California voters.During the four years since the last presidential primary voting, Democratic voter rolls in California have dropped 124,000, while Republicans lost 224,000. Both parties are down about one percentage point in their portion of the state’s voters roughly 43 percent for Democrats today and about 34 percent for Republicans. But decline-to-state voters are up by 496,000, now amounting to almost 20 percent of all California voters, compared with 16 percent four years ago.Secretary of State Debra Bowen suggests that the total of registered voters is up only about 100,000 during this time span due to better tracking and removal of deadwood from the rolls, eliminating voters who have died or simply have no record of casting ballots over multiple elections.But it’s the rise in decline-to-states that is most important. This category has even picked up voters at the expense of fringe parties like the Greens (who lost 30,000 of their previous 166,000 registrants) and the Liberatians (down 21,000 from their previous 82,600).If you add the losses in the enrollments of all the parties, they just about add up to the gains among decline-to-states.This suggests a growing alienation of voters from all existing parties. But disaffected voters can’t go to a party of their own, so it behooves the existing parties to do whatever they can to woo them over.That’s what Democrats are doing by letting anyone registered decline-to-state to walk into his or her polling place and get a Democratic ballot. If independent voters then feel they’ve had some voice in selecting the Democratic candidate – even if their choice isn’t the eventual nominee – historical patterns strongly suggest they’ll vote Democratic again in the fall.Since Democrats already enjoy a 1.4 million voter plurality over Republicans in California, this means the Republicans’ task is about to get harder.Given all this, it’s hard to see why Republicans would be so exclusionary. But the state GOP has not seriously considered letting outsiders vote in its presidential primary since the U.S. Supreme Court early in this decade threw out the former “blanket” primary voting system in a decision resulting from a lawsuit filed by both major parties.The blanket system created by a ballot initiative in 1996 saw all candidates listed together, with voters of all parties able to vote for whichever candidate they liked, regardless of party. The big parties felt this allowed too much potential for mischief, with voters able to cross over and select a weak candidate for the party they don’t like.The new reality, then, is that Democrats are seeking to convert decline-to-states into de facto Democrats, even if those voters don’t want the appellation. Meanwhile, Republicans are essentially thumbing their noses at the decline-to-states.As a result, Democratic candidates will likely rack up a February vote margin in California over Republicans even greater than their plurality among registered voters.If this happens, Republicans might as well forget about any possibility of wresting California away from the Democrats this fall for the first time since 1988. The presidential vote will also likely carry over into legislative and congressional contests. So if they end up faring poorly, Republicans ought to look inward and blame their own tight-fisted, exclusionary policy for a large part of the problem.Thomas Elias writes on California issues. Email him at

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