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New Voter Sign-Ups Climb in Some Areas

August 21, 2003|Nita Lelyveld | Times Staff Writer

For weeks, elections officials across the state have been expecting Californians to start showing interest in the recall vote by calling in with questions and registering to vote. In a handful of counties, it's happened.

A few days ago, new registrations tripled in Monterey County. In Santa Cruz County, officials say they're seeing the kind of voter interest they only get right before a presidential election.

In Fresno County, the pace of new registrations has picked up in the last six weeks, said Victor Salazar, county clerk-registrar of voters. In that time period, the county processed 6,370 new voter registrations.

"That's probably about twice as many as we would normally get," Salazar said.

But many of the state's 58 counties, including Los Angeles, have yet to see much evidence that the unprecedented state recall election is fattening their voter rolls or piquing the public interest.

"It's the same slow summer as usual," said Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack. "We're not being deluged."

The last day to register to vote in the recall election is Sept. 22.

Many election officials reached said they assumed that all the news coverage of the Oct. 7 election would prompt many new registrations.

"Actually, the so-called spike in registration, we just haven't seen it," said Mischelle Townsend, Riverside County's registrar of voters.

Santa Barbara County has seen "moderate interest" in the recall, said Kathy Merlino, a senior office specialist in the county clerk's office.

"But it's lower than I anticipated. I thought there'd be a lot more calls," she said.

The secretary of state's office collects data on new voter registrations several times a year. But the last statewide report was in February. As of the last report, the state had just more than 15 million registered voters, which is about 70% of the eligible population.

In Orange County, officials say they're unsure whether the increase in registrations in the past few weeks is directly related to the recall, said Angela Burrell, the registrar's public information officer.

In Monterey County, a Democratic voter drive was responsible for the sudden surge in new registrations -- from about 100 a day to about 300, said Heather Mochel, an elections services specialist for the county, which has about 149,600 registered voters.

The unique nature of the election seems to be a draw for people in Santa Cruz County, said elections manager Gail Pellerin, who added that each time the local paper publishes a story about how historic the vote will be, her office gets calls from people volunteering to work.

But officials from many counties say the only real increase in calls they're getting is from voters who are simply confused about how the October recall vote will work. Many people think that they have to register specially for the vote, even if they're already registered, said Jan Price, an elections official in Amador County. They do not.

Voter registration forms are available at DMV branches and county registrars' offices, as well as on the secretary of state's Web site at

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