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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | ELECTIONS

Turnout Expected to Be Highest Since 1980

November 01, 2000|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County election officials predict that Tuesday's voter turnout will be the highest since 1980 because of the close presidential race and the issuance of a record number of absentee ballots this fall.

Officials project that 80% of registered voters, or about 310,000, will cast ballots--a turnout far greater than the 66% participation in President Clinton's 1996 walk-through.

"It's Kennedy-Nixon all over again," elections chief Bruce Bradley said. "It's a horse race. And people are interested. So I ordered ballots based on 80%."

Voters have shown their interest by requesting about 93,000 absentee ballots through Tuesday, compared with the previous high of 76,000 four years ago. This year, one of every four local votes is expected to be cast by absentee ballot.

"A key statistic is that we're at about 24% of registered voters with absentees," Bradley said. "That's about 5% higher than we've had before, and it's one of the highest in the state."

That is not only because of high voter interest but a result of aggressive get-out-the-vote campaigns by both parties.

Not long ago, absentee voters tended to be older and more conservative, so the absentee turnout favored Republicans. Bradley said that has changed.

At least seven groups have mounted campaigns to distribute absentee ballot applications this fall, he said.

"At one time, only the Republicans were doing it," Bradley said. "Now it's too big a spectrum to make any generalizations about what it will mean. Everybody across the board is doing it."

Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) have both mounted such campaigns. So have the anti-tax Save Proposition 13 group and the California Teachers Assn., Bradley said.

"Now everybody realizes how important it is," he said.

Nearly one-third of all the absentee ballots requested have been the result of these activist campaigns, Bradley said. That compares with 10% in a normal year, he said.

"So are they reaching people who normally go to the polls, or are they cultivating a whole new group of voters?" he asked. "We'll have to wait and see."

Absentee balloting has climbed steadily since it began in 1976. Just 5% of local registered voters took out absentee ballots 24 years ago compared with nearly 24% today. And absentee voters have even more clout than those numbers suggest, since about 85% of them actually return their ballots, Bradley said.

Four years ago, about 25,000 absentee ballots were turned in at the polls on election day or sent in the last-minute mail. Two years ago, absentee ballots flooded the elections office at the last minute, making it impossible to call the race between Strickland and Somis teacher Roz McGrath until 16,000 absentee ballots were counted from the 37th Assembly District.

Strickland's lead expanded from 346 on election night to about 1,300 by the following Friday, when the absentees were fully counted.

For this election, just 20,166 of the 93,000 absentee ballots issued had been returned by Tuesday afternoon.

*

FYI

For more information on this and other political races in Ventura County, please see the Los Angeles Times' Ventura County Web site at www.latimes.com/editions/ventura/elections.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ventura County Voter Profile

*--*

Total Absentee % of General % Voter Votes Ballots Registered Election Turnout Cast Issued Voters 1976 83.0 159,874 9,640 5.0 1980 82.3 195,983 17,751 7.5 1984 77.5 228,631 32,025 10.9 1988 75.6 248,351 41,310 12.6 1992 76.9 276,403 55,200 15.5 1996 66.4 253,866 76,033 19.9 2000 80.0* --- 93,000** 24.0

*--*

* Projected by county elections chief Bruce Bradley

** Approximate number of absentee ballots issued through the mail by Tuesday. Officials expect 1,000 more to be issued in person before election.

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