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Vote smart: Why the Aug. 26 elections are important

Your vote matters, and here’s why

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Since 1992, Orange County has distracted voters about their suffrage by holding local elections on the same day (and on the same ballot) as the statewide partisan primary elections in August. But, unless there are more than two candidates running for a local office – and unless none of them earns more than 50 percent of the vote – the local elections are not primaries at all; they’re finals. Whoever wins becomes your next county commissioner. So vote now, or you may not get a second chance in the general election in November.

“The big losers in the [nonpartisan county election] proposition have always been the No Party Affiliation voters, who don’t participate because they think the August primary is only a partisan primary for the state,” says Doug Head. “They participate on a level of 8 percent, whereas 30 percent go to the polls in November.”

A citizens’ initiative launched this year by Citizens for Informed Elections gathered more than 70,000 petitions to right this decades-old wrong, and for good reason. The illusion that somehow local elections are nonpartisan is intended to mislead the general public into not showing up.

“Right now in Orange County, voters don’t know whether they’re voting for a Democrat or a Republican,” the group says on its petition webpage in bold, red letters. “This petition is to include this information on your ballot the next time you vote.” The group wants a question on the November ballot that will ask Orange County voters to decide whether they want to make county offices partisan and align county elections with presidential elections, so more voters turn out. (Commissioner Brummer, meanwhile, has proposed changes to the county charter that would do exactly the opposite.)

Confusing? Yes, and that’s by design. Which is why it’s important to pay attention to local politics and vote for county commissioners who represent you. The Brummers of the world are out there, trying to keep your voice from being heard.

YOUR VOTE IS OVERWEIGHT

Midterm primary elections are notoriously low on turnout, and those who do vote are not terribly diverse in their makeup. Of so-called “perfect voters,” who statistically turn out for every election, most are conservative, elderly and white. In 2010, only 129,000 – or just more than 10 percent of the county’s nearly 1.2 million residents (21 percent of the approximately 700,000 registered to vote) – voted in August. If statistics are correct, a majority of those were white “perfect voters” aged 50-79.

“Our number one goal is to have more working-class people participate with their local commission and vote for their self-interests,” says Organize Now director Stephanie Porta. Organize Now has been instrumental in keeping the sick-time question alive long after both the county and state tried to kill it. Through its work with the Vote Local campaign, the organization has also been educating voters about local candidates for office in an effort to boost participation in midterm elections. “Your vote can be more powerful in an August election than in a November election,” Porta says.

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