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Can't settle tiff, so both parties lose

A dispute over a voter registration booth at a San Clemente street fair ends with both Democrats and Republicans shut out.

July 14, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

The request seemed simple enough: Democrats in southern Orange County wanted to set up a voter registration booth at a San Clemente street fair next month.

But the problems began immediately.

The Aug. 12 Fiesta Street Festival, run by the local Chamber of Commerce, already had a voter registration booth, run by a local Republican women's group.

Could we set one up too? the Democrats asked. No, only one voter booth, came the reply. Can we share it then? No, they were told again.

A city councilman got involved. A lawyer on the chamber's board weighed in.

Now, if you want to register to vote, you'd better find someplace to do it other than the Fiesta Street Festival. Registration workers are required to accept all applicants, regardless of party affiliation. But Democrats were concerned that the Republican group's signs might discourage would-be Democrats from approaching. To them, the resistance also smacked of Republican hegemony.

"We just wanted some equal access," said Gila Jones, chairwoman of the South Orange County Democratic Club. "Republicans control in Orange County, not just in numbers but also in mindshare. This to me is a mindshare issue, a dominance issue."

To the chamber, it was more of a space issue. The event takes up two blocks of Avenida del Mar, and most booths offer food and games to raise money for nonprofit groups. About 15 years ago, the chamber's chief executive, Lynn Wood, offered a booth to the San Clemente Area Republican Women Federated even though it didn't fit the theme, and they've had it each year since.

"I told them we already had a voter registration booth, run by the Republicans, and anybody can register to vote," Wood said. "It just got to be kind of silly. This isn't a political event, it's a family event."

The Democrats called San Clemente City Councilman G. Wayne Eggleston, who has at various times been registered with both parties. He called Wood.

"I just wanted to see if there was some accommodation that could be made for both," he said.

They also called Bernie Allen, a lawyer on the chamber's board of directors, who, Democrats said, recommended a sharing arrangement. He did not return calls seeking comment.

Wood said that she would have been happy to let the parties split the booth, but that she met with resistance. Democrats say they were happy to share but that the Republicans rejected the arrangement.

June Kelley, president of the Republican group, said she was unaware of the issue when contacted Friday by The Times. She said her group's chaplain, Adele Donato, was handling the matter. Donato did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

The back-and-forth went on for about a month before Wood became fed up. Last week, she decided there would be no voter registration booth at the fiesta.

Still, she said, she would change her mind on one condition: that the two parties share.

"It's just unfortunate," she said. "I would think they'd be able to work together. They still can. I just don't want this infighting."

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Breakdown

More than half of San Clemente's 38,402 registered voters are Republican.

Voter registration in San Clemente, as of July 6

Republican: 54%

Democrat: 22.4%

Decline to state: 18.7%

Other parties: 4.8%

NOTE: Less than 100% because of rounding

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Source: Orange County registrar of voters. Graphics reporting by Christian Berthelsen

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