More and more voters here in the Mother Lode, and throughout California, are registering non-partisan, not willing to tie themselves to the candidates or ideology of a particular party.

Non-partisan registration, as a percent of Tuolumne County's total, has doubled from 8 to 16 percent since 1990. More than 5,000 of 31,659 voters eligible to cast ballots in next Tuesday's primary election declined to state a party allegiance.

In Calaveras County, 16 percent of voters are registered non-partisan and statewide the figure is 19.3 percent, double the 1992 number.

Part of the advantage of not pledging to a party, some non-partisan voters may have thought, was being able to vote for the candidate of their choice, be he or she a Democrat or a Republican, in presidential primary elections.

This year that's only half true: While the California Democratic Party has opened its ballot to non-partisan voters, the state's Republican Party said no thanks. So independents can vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but not for John McCain or Mitt Romney.

Confusing? Frustrating? Baffling?

Probably all of the above. It makes no sense for one major party to open its ballot to non-partisan voters and the other to block them. In an era where independent voters may well decide November's election and where both parties spend considerable time and money trying to woo them, excluding non-partisans is like a political shot to the foot.

In essence, the Republicans, are telling such voters their input is not wanted. The Democrats are welcoming it, hoping that independents who vote with their party in February will do the same in November.

Making the GOP choice even more mystifying is that the party's June ballot, on which the Republican candidates for Congress and the California Legislature will be chosen, is open to unaffiliated voters. Also open to non-partisans were the 2004 Republican presidential primary ballot and its 2006 June primary ballot.

It's too late for California's Republican leaders to do anything about the party's closed 2008 presidential ballot and the confusion it is now spawning. But we urge them to open GOP ballots to independent voters in all future primary elections, particularly those for president. It is the right thing to do, both for the party and for the state's voters.

Meanwhile, elections offices in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties are encouraging absentee and mail-in voters to send their ballots in soon. Well over half the voters in both counties now cast ballots by mail, which has advantages and disadvantages.

If you vote too early, your candidate could drop out of the race or get caught up in scandal. If you vote too late, your ballot may be counted late or not at all.

Registrars remind by-mail voters that getting ballots postmarked on election day, is not good enough. They must actually arrive at elections offices by Feb. 5 to be valid.

Voters who want their ballots counted on election night best mail them now or bring them to county election offices before next Tuesday. Ballots arriving by mail that very day or dropped at the offices or at polling places on Feb. 5 will not be counted until a ballot canvass is done.

Although county elections staffs try to verify and count mail-in ballots received on election day as quickly as possible, the process often takes several days.

In the past, the results of some county races have hung in the balance as such late-arriving ballots have been counted. This year, depending on the number of election-day ballots received statewide, counting delays could put presidential primary results in limbo for several days.

So we encourage mail-in voters to post their ballots as soon as possible.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.