Ventura County residents have until midnight Monday to register to vote in the March 7 primary election, or to change their political party affiliation so their votes for president will be counted, elections chief Bruce Bradley said.
California's primary is open, meaning that voters may cast ballots for candidates from any party. But Republican and Democratic party officials have said they will not honor crossover votes. Instead, they will count only votes of party members in determining who wins the California primary.
So Bradley said he will keep two tallies for the presidential race: one including all votes for a candidate and a second that tallies votes by party affiliation.
For example, Republican Sen. John McCain could receive the most votes overall but trail George W. Bush among Republicans, and Bush would receive the California delegates at the party's summer nominating convention, Bradley said.
"We've already gotten a lot of calls," he said. "And I suspect that over the weekend people will really begin to understand what's going on, and will be in here Monday changing parties or specifying a party."
In particular, Bradley said he expects the 15% of county voters who have no party to declare party membership.
"This is true only for president, because the national parties have said they won't recognize the open primary," he said. So just one tally will be kept for congressional and state races such as those for the state Senate and Assembly.
The decision by national Republican and Democratic leaders is far more important than it would have been just a few years ago, Bradley said, because the number of nonpartisan county voters has jumped from 7% or 8% just a few years ago to double that today.
That is a disenchantment spawned by Ross Perot's Reform Party movement, Bradley said. But as Perot's appeal faded, more and more voters have declared to be without a party.
Of the county's 363,115 registered voters, 152,328, or 41.9%, are Republican, while 38.7%, or 140,492, are Democrat. The Republican advantage has gradually widened in recent months, Bradley said.
"They're the only ones with any real activity," he said.
The current registration is about 30,000 below the all-time county high of 393,000 in the 1998 fall general election.
"We did a major purge a year and a half ago," he said. "We mailed 50,000 letters to voters with whom we had no contact in the last four years, and 40,000 came back saying there was no such person at that address."
Registration has risen about 10,000 in the 18 months since then, he said. And Bradley expects it to climb to at least 400,000 by the general election. The jump from the primary to the general has been about 30,000 to 40,000, since many people vote only in presidential elections, he said.
Bradley expects voter turnout to be 45% in the primary and 75% in the fall, although only 66.4%--a record low--voted in November 1996.
"With no incumbent, it will be wide open," Bradley said.
Voters may register, or change their registration, at numerous locations across the county, including libraries, fire stations, post offices, city clerk offices and high schools and colleges.
To register, a voter must be 18 by election day, a U.S. citizen, Ventura County resident and not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
How and Where to Register
Residents planning to vote for presidential candidates, state and federal legislative contenders and members of the Board of Supervisors have until Monday to register for the March 7 primary.
Registration forms are available in the Elections Division of the County Government Center, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Forms are also available countywide at fire stations, post offices, chambers of commerce, libraries, city halls and Department of Motor Vehicles offices.
In state and federal races, voters will choose candidates from each party to face off in the November election. In the three supervisorial districts up for election, any candidate who receives a majority of votes will be seated in January. Otherwise, there will be a runoff election between the top two vote-getters in November.
For more information, call 654-2781.
Source: Ventura County registrar-recorder