Late Voter Registration Change Encourages Possible Gamesmanship & Mischief

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

As Tony Quinn explained in his column today, expect delays and confusion in California’s primary election because of the state’s liberal election laws but add to that mix the possibility of gamesmanship and mischief if a bill now under consideration becomes law before the primary.

Under contemplation by the legislature is SB 207 by Democratic Senator Melissa Hurtado, which will allow voters to change their political party of record and even their voting address up to two weeks before the election. If passed as an emergency measure with a two-thirds vote and signed immediately by the governor, the law would take effect in time for the March primary.

The intent of the law is to streamline the registration process and help deal with a potential large number of voters updating their address or preferred party as they adjust to some of the new voting laws passed by the legislature.

There is also likely a political play here.

The bill, similar to one vetoed by Governor Newsom last year because he feared the state would have to make more funds available to local governments election offices to meet the law’s demands, appeared suddenly in a new form. SB 207 is a classic example of a gut-and-amend bill. The measure started out last year as a Medi-Cal asthma prevention bill. As such it passed the Senate with no negative votes.

Suddenly, it turned into an election bill that has passed the Assembly and is being returned to the Senate for concurrence.

With the highly contested Democratic presidential primary, the law could motivate voters who prefer identifying with political parties that have closed primaries such as the Republicans and Peace and Freedom Party, to jump ship  and have a say in the Democratic contest. In the political tug-of-war, it’s a way to grow the Democratic Party numbers (and hope that those new additions remain after the election) or reduce the core of Republican voters.

There’s also potential for mischief from some Republican voters who see little point in voting in the Republican presidential primary that is all ready a foregone conclusion and make a vote for a Democratic candidate who they may believe would make an easier opponent for President Trump. It could also move Republicans disenchanted with the president to want to help choose a Democratic nominee they feel comfortable voting for in the General Election.

Talk to most political consultants and they tell you that chances of such mischief changing the outcomes in high profile races is negligible at best. However, with the difficult rules the California Democratic Party plays under in the primary, a few votes here or there could sneak a candidate over the 15% threshold needed to secure some delegates.

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