Tag Archives: ATMWatch

The Absentee Ballot Factor

(cross-posted from ATM Watch)

During Courage Campaign’s recent conference call with Debra Bowen, the Secretary of State expressed interest in expanding the number of permanent absentee voters as a means to mitigate the expected lower turnout of our June statewide primary election next year.

There's a big concern with this Feb 5 primary that we're going to see a big drop off in June. I'd like to see the state undertake a real effort to get voters who want to do so to sign up as permanent absentee voters…permanent vote by mail voters. That will mean that they will automatically get ballots for the June and November elections once they register for the February primary. We know that that system increases turnout among occasional voters and among minority voters. Some counties promote that very heavily, others don't. It's very important in a year where we could have wildly swinging turnout because of having three elections, that we take advantage of those kinds of tools.

In last year's November election, according to Capitol Weekly, absentee ballots accounted for 45% of all votes cast throughout the state, a percentage that is expected to rise to 50% in 2008. If Secretary Bowen has her way, that number could be far higher.

So what does this mean for the February 2008 primary?

Well, by California law, absentee voters can send in their ballots almost a month prior to election day. Next year, that magic date is January 7, weeks before either New Hampshire or Iowa voters will have gone to the polls.

Capitol Weekly cites another pertinent statistic:

40 percent of California's absentee voters typically cast ballots prior to a week before Election Day

If this holds true and absentee ballots do end up accounting for half of the votes cast, that could mean at least 20% of all voters in California will have voted before the results from Iowa and New Hampshire are known. In other words, considering the growing number of absentee voters in the state, a February 5 primary could actually mean that Iowa and New Hampshire have less impact on the outcome of California's election, not more as some have argued.

Traditionally, of course, the results in the early states tend to be momentum-generating, think of John Kerry after his Iowa win in 2004 or George W. Bush after South Carolina in 2000. Next year, there just may be a good number of California voters whose choice will be untainted by those that came before, a number, which actually could exceed the voting populations of New Hampshire and Iowa combined.

ATM Watch: On Getting Back From The Government What We Give

(cross-posted from The Courage Campaign)

One of the arguments for moving the presidential primary up was to give California more leverage in demanding that the federal tax dollars we send to Washington come back to us in a more equitable manner. Russell Goldsmith breaks down the current situation California finds itself in over at HuffPo:

California gets shortchanged when federal tax dollars are at stake. In 2003, according to the non-partisan California Institute for Federal Policy research, Californians sent $50 billion more to Washington in federal taxes than the state received in federal expenditures. That means that for every dollar you paid to the Internal Revenue Service, only 79 cents found its way back to California in the form of federal programs and expenditures.

If I'm doing my math right, that means that the $50 billion we're getting shortchanged represents the remaining 21 cents on the dollar that we pay out. Imagine what even gaining 5 cents more on the dollar would mean…more than $10 billion a year that could go toward our schools, roads, prisons! As it is, a full 44 states get a better deal than we do including, no surprise, Texas, which gets a return of 92 cents to the dollar back.


So now that we've moved our primary, what's being done about getting us a fair return on our tax dollar? All week, members of the Assembly, Democrats and Republicans, have been in Washington DC to lobby our newly in control senators and Congressional appropriations committee members (of whom California has 5.) Indeed, such a trip has not taken place in 5 years. 

In a press conference, assembly members including Speaker Nunez, cited the incarceration of illegal immigrants and investment in alternative energy as targets for increased spending.

Nuñez and Mike Villines of Fresno, the Republican leader in the Assembly, said one prime topic with members of Congress was to increase funding for the incarceration of illegal immigrants, which costs the state about $750 million a year. Currently, federal reimbursement covers about a third of that.


Legislators also pushed for more federal money for the research and development of alternative fuels, saying that would boost California businesses.

But is this renewed advocacy a function of an earlier primary date or merely of a newly Democratic majority in Washington, one that may be more receptive to throwing increased funding a big blue state's way?

That's a good question. Upon the Assembly's passage of the measure, Speaker Nunez said that early primary state South Carolina gets $1.35 on the dollar back from Washington. But as George Skelton tells us in his column today, the earliest primary state of all, New Hampshire, gets back only 65 cents to the dollar. Skelton makes the case that the amount a state gets back isn't about political heft, rather it is a function of demographics.

Pretty simple. California is a relatively youthful state, so there are fewer Social Security and Medicare payments, per capita. It's also a prosperous state, so there are higher income tax payments — and, on average, fewer welfare checks and Medicaid reimbursements (Medi-Cal in California) than elsewhere. 

And as for the reason for New Hampshire's raw deal:

That's because it has even less poverty and more per-capita wealth than California.

Skelton cites the California Institute for Federal Policy Research as the source for his numbers and quotes its executive director Tim Ransdall to back up his point:

"We are doomed to be a donor state," he says. "The question is, how much is OK. When does it become too much?

The large majority of the deficit is structural. Demographics. Just a fact of life."

So Skelton's message is a positive one ultimately: we're getting screwed because we're youthful, prosperous and have averted any major disasters! But isn't the idea that who gets elected to the highest positions in our government has NOTHING to do with the money a state gets back from the government a little naive? After all, as Russell Goldsmith tells us of Dick Cheney's home state:

About a year ago, I visited Jackson, Wyoming, where the vice president lives. While I was there, I learned that the state had just received $4 million in federal funds for some "badly needed" bike paths! Now, Jackson is home to some 8,500 people, so Uncle Sam's gift comes to about $500 per person in a town where animals outnumber residents by at least two to one. For a bike path. In a state with no state income tax. 

That doesn't make sense. Neither does Wyoming's share of federal money for homeland security. Until recently, it was seven times per capita bigger than California's, even though our state is home to some of America's most important–and vulnerable–economic assets.

Goldsmith absolutely sees a correlation and indeed calls on all of us to use our newfound attention from the presidential candidates to demand that they not only address California's issues, but commit to funding them.

Over the next two years, the presidential candidates of both parties will hold rallies, shake hands and raise lots of money here in California. The process has already begun. We Californians must take these opportunities to address not only the important issues we care about as Americans–from the environment to the economy to the war in Iraq–but also to the critical issues that significantly affect California but are neglected by the federal government–especially the costs and challenges of illegal immigration, homeland security, health care, transportation and the piracy of intellectual property. Candidates for president, as well as the U.S. Senate and House, should be held to account for their views on fairly funding these important challenges facing California that are appropriately federal responsibilities.

This is exactly what our ATM Watch series hopes to accomplish, and you can help. GO HERE and let us know what issues are important to you and we'll get the message to the campaigns. Also, join the ATM Watch group HERE and blog about your experiences with the candidates. Are they addressing the issues most important to California?

Our campaign contributions aren't the only things that leave the state never to return. Getting our fair share of federal tax money can be a huge factor in improving our state's fiscal health and we should use our newfound access to the candidates to lobby for just that.