Politics & Government

Politicians will vie with Santa for attention

For Californians everywhere, this Christmas probably will feel a lot like election season.

With the state's presidential primary scheduled Feb. 5 -- earlier than ever before -- deadlines for military ballots to be mailed, voter guides to be sent out and absentee voting to start will push the 2008 campaign season into late 2007.

In fact, military ballots will go out in barely more than two months, and voters wishing to cast absentee ballots can do so starting Jan. 7 -- before the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, long considered the traditional start of the presidential election season.

As early as that sounds, some other states will send out absentee ballots or allow early ballots to be cast in December.

Because of California's early election and the ability to start casting votes the first week in January, experts predict the state likely will see campaign advertisements in the mail.

"When you open your mail in December, instead of seeing Santa Claus, you're going to see Clinton, Obama, Giuliani and Romney," said John J. Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.

Pitney was referring to some of the leading candidates in both parties -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the Democratic Party and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in the Republican Party.

California may be safely Democratic in a general election, but both Democrats and Republicans will battle in their respective parties for the state's cache of delegates, which can go a long way in helping them capture the presidential nomination.

Harried election offices are scrambling to get everything ready -- and canceling holiday vacations to get the work finished. Then they'll do it two more times in 2008.

In June, primary elections are scheduled for statewide and local offices, as well as ballot initiatives.

November will bring the general election, featuring presidential, statewide and local races, as well as ballot initiatives.

The challenge is even bigger in Tulare County, where officials have a major election coming next month that will feature both the Visalia City Council and Visalia school board as well as other, smaller, races. Fresno County has elections scheduled the same day for outlying water districts, community services districts, a school board race and a sales tax measure in the city of Selma.

"It'll be a challenge," said Kim Shannon, Tulare County's elections supervisor. With all the elections, she figures there will be a two-week window in late June and early July when the office isn't in election mode.

Taken together, Fresno County Clerk Victor Salazar said the coming election season will be "longer than I've ever seen."

It's likely to heat up starting Jan. 7, when absentee ballots can go into the mail. On that day, people can come to the elections office and actually cast their ballot.

In Fresno County, Salazar said, more than half of voters now cast absentee ballots.

Statewide in the November 2006 election, 41% of voters cast absentee ballots, a percentage state election officials say continues to rise.