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ELECTION RECOMMENDATION

Vote No on Proposition 52

October 10, 2002

Voter participation in the United States is declining alarmingly even though the 2000 presidential election demonstrated anew the importance of each vote. In California, the turnout for March's primary elections was the lowest ever for statewide balloting. Nationwide, people 30 and under are the least likely to vote. Fixing this is more complicated than opening polling places to voting-day registration.

In California, anyone who is not now on the voting rolls has until the end of the business day Oct. 21 to sign up to vote Nov. 5. Even though that is a shorter deadline than in the past, many election officials believe that the biggest impediment to voting remains the voter registration system. Rob McKay of San Francisco, an heir to a Taco Bell fortune and a thoughtful and conscientious man, also believes that. He is the prime sponsor of Proposition 52, which would allow those who were unregistered to walk into a polling place on election day and vote after showing evidence they resided in the precinct.

In an ideal world this would be fine; smaller states have such systems. But there are too many unanswered questions and potential risks under McKay's plan. Californians should vote no on 52. At the same time, they should urge the state Legislature and the next secretary of state to make registration as easy as possible and to target young potential voters while guarding against fraud.

Currently, a voter not on a precinct roll can cast a provisional ballot, which is set aside and not counted until election officials can confirm the voter's registration. Under Proposition 52, the unregistered who showed up at the polls would cast a live ballot. It would go into the hopper with everyone else's. There is no way to fish out that vote, check it and cast it aside as invalid, even in a recount.

The measure's sponsors contend that there is little likelihood of voter fraud, which has seldom been a problem in California. But with same-day registration, one side in a hot local contest could round up nonresidents or noncitizens and supply them with phony identification.

Proposition 52 requires a driver's license or two other documents such as utility or credit card bills listing the name and address of the would-be voter. At present, Californians do not need to show any identification in registering to vote because the waiting period allows time to check questionable registrations. Minnesota's secretary of state says she believes her state's same-day law has increased fraud but that convictions are hard to get even in documented cases.

Registration is not very difficult now. Sign-up cards are displayed in public places from Department of Motor Vehicles offices to the post office. They're even in supermarkets.

Potential voters, especially young people, don't bother to vote for many reasons. Voter registration efforts should focus more keenly on 18-year-olds because once people vote, they're more likely to keep voting. For now, however, vote no on Proposition 52.

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