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Parties took pains to get Californians to vote

For Tayisha Simmons, voting was hardly easy. After spending a confusing morning figuring out how to get to the hastily assembled polling station in her gritty South Central Los Angeles neighbourhood, she had to step out of the voting booth twice to ask for guidance on the confusing punch-card ballot.

But she felt compelled to vote. For one thing, she had received an urgent telephone call from former president Bill Clinton.

"I got about three things in the mail telling me how to vote, and a whole bunch of calls, and then I heard the call from Mr. Clinton last night and I knew this was serious," she said shortly after casting her vote against recalling Governor Gray Davis.

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Mr. Clinton's call came in the form of a recording made by the Democratic Party and sent to more than a million Californians this week, along with similar messages by former vice-president Al Gore and entertainer Barbra Streisand, among others.

As the California election finally came to a vote yesterday, both political parties displayed remarkable desperation in their efforts to get people out to the poll.

For the Republicans, it was a race to attract new voters, especially young white men attracted to the electoral novelty of actor-candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. For the Democrats, it was a matter of bringing out their core supporters: union members, women, blacks and Hispanics - in short, people like Ms. Simmons, who is black.

Although 44 per cent of the state's 15.4 million registered voters are Democrats and only 35 per cent are Republicans, those results were not mirrored in the recall results, with Democratic Mr. Davis ousted and Republican Mr. Schwarzenegger chosen to replace him.

The throngs of young white men voting for the first time hurt the Democrats, according to Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field polling company.

"Younger voters are more willy-nilly to make wholesale changes," he said.

Also working against the Democrats was the huge mail-in advance vote - almost 2.2 million ballots cast and counted in before yesterday. Presumably, most of those people made their choice before hearing last week's revelations about Mr. Schwarzenegger's sexual proclivities.

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A spokeswoman for the California Secretary of State said that by later afternoon, a 60-per-cent turnout appeared likely. It was a huge increase over the 2002 election that brought Mr. Davis to office (50.7 per cent), although not as high as the state's turnout for the controversial 2000 presidential election (71 per cent).

It seemed a recipe for chaos: a surprisingly high turnout in an election that state officials had to throw together in less than a third the usual time.

"When they called this election, we said, 'This is impossible. There's no way. We have no idea how this could be done by Oct. 7,' " said Conny McCormack, the Los Angeles County registrar. "Then we all went home, came back the next day, and said, 'Okay, how can we make this work?' "

They did it by reducing the number of polling stations by 10,000 from previous elections. That created the kind of confusion that afflicted voters such as Ms. Simmons.

The chaos was compounded by two seemingly contradictory technological problems. On one hand, a majority of Californians had to use punch-card ballots, the high error rate of which became infamous in the 2000 presidential election in Florida. On the other hand, the state was introducing new touch-screen computer voting machines that computer scientists have suggested are prone to glitches of their own.

"If there are problems, it will be the unexpected breakdown of one of these new touch-screen machines that don't have any paper trails to determine if they were accurately counted," said Allan Hoffenblum, a political consultant who works for the Republican Party.

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To make matters worse, according to a poll conducted this weekend, 11 per cent of California voters incorrectly believe that those who vote No to recall the governor are ineligible to vote for a replacement. This worked against the Democrats, whose telephone calls urgently reminded voters to select a Democratic name.

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About the Author
International-Affairs Columnist

Doug Saunders writes the Globe and Mail's international-affairs column, and also serves as the paper's online opinion and debate editor. He has been a writer with the Globe since 1995, and has extensive experience as a foreign correspondent, having run the Globe's foreign bureaus in Los Angeles and London.He was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and educated in Toronto. More


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