Undeclared Voters Will Have Free Rein in 2002 Primary

by Howard Fine

With the registration deadline for the March 5 primary next Tuesday, (Feb. 19), there's still confusion about cross-over voting in partisan primary races.

Up through 1996, registered voters of a party couldn't vote for candidates of another party. Then in the 1998 and 2000 primaries, voters could cross over and cast ballots for any candidate of any party. Now, you can't again or can you?

Here's how it works: If you are registered with a particular party (Democrat, Republican, American Independent, Green, etc ), for partisan primary races you can now only vote for candidates of that party. That's a reversal from the 2000 primary, when you could vote for a candidate in any party, regardless of affiliation. Seems the mainstream parties detested that concept as approved by voters in March 1996, challenged it and got the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the initiative two years ago.

But there's one big exception: if you are one of the 2.2 million voters statewide (14.5 percent of total registered voters) who registered as "decline to state," you can vote for a candidate of a political party you're not registered with. (In Los Angeles County, 610,305 of the county's 4,172,106 registered voters were registered as of last October as "declined to state," also about 15 percent of the total.)

But there's another catch: as a non-partisan, you can only choose the partisan nominating ballot of one political party. If you're a registered non-partisan and want to cast a vote in the March 5 primary for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, you can only ask for the Republican primary ballot. Once that choice is made, you're stuck: you can't then decide you want to vote Democratic congressional primary because there's a hot race among Democrats in your congressional district.

Keep in mind, all this only applies to partisan races. Non-partisan races such as City Council, County Board of Supervisors, community college districts and judges have been, and remain, open to all registered voters.

So how will this all play out in the March 5 primary? It may have some effect, but only at the margins, according to Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar at USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development.

At most, Jeffe said, half of the "decline-to-state" voters are likely to choose a specific partisan ballot. If they split evenly between the major parties, then it may add a couple of percentage points to the tally.

"Barely half of the registered voters surveyed in a recent poll even knew the primary was on March 5, let alone what the rules are for cross-over voting," Jeffe said. "Those poll workers are going to have a lot of explaining to do."

Redistricting Battle

A battle royale is shaping up between L.A. City Councilwomen Ruth Galanter and Cindy Miscikowski over which one will get to keep the geographical district they were elected to serve. As expected, on Feb. 2 the L.A. City Redistricting Commission put forward a plan to consolidate the current sixth and 11th districts into one coastal Westside district. The resulting district will be known as either the sixth or 11th, and a new district in the San Fernando Valley bearing the designation of the one shut out of the Westside.

But the commission stopped short of deciding which district will go and thus, the battle between Galanter and Miscikowski. Since it's the City Council that ultimately must approve whatever the commission recommends, it may come down to which one can rally the seven additional council votes.

On that score, Miscikowski seems to have the edge. For starters, Galanter will have only one more year to serve on her term when the new districts take effect on July 1, while Miscikowski will have three years. Then there's the issue of Galanter's failed bid for the council presidency last year, which split the council along old guard/new guard lines. Miscikowski supported now-Council President Alex Padilla.

There's still one wild card, and that's the March 5 runoff election between Assemblyman Tony Cardenas and DreamWorks SKG executive Wendy Greuel for the Valley council seat previously held by Joel Wachs.

"If Cardenas gets on, it strengthens Padilla's grip, which in turn is likely to bolster Miscikowski's hand," said political consultant Coby King. "But if Greuel wins, then it's anybody's guess how this plays out. Padilla's hold on the Council would be weakened and a major power struggle is likely to ensue."

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or by e-mail at hfine@labusinessjournal.com.

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