Recall effort drawing voters

August 13, 2003 12:00 am

By JOSHUA WOLFSON

California might have finally found a way to counter voter apathy — hold a recall election.

Voter registration has increased in foothills communities in the weeks since California's recall election was given the green light, election officials report.

Tuolumne County has seen its voter rolls jump by more than 150 people since the recall was certified last month, Assistant County Clerk Jackie St. George said.

On July 25, there were 30,039 registered voters in the county, she said. That number has since increased to 30,194.

The rise is unusual, St. George said. Typically, the number of registered voters hovers around 30,000.

St. George said the elections office staff members haven't experienced problems dealing with the increased interest. In fact, they applaud it.

"We thoroughly expect a large turnout state and countywide," she said. "Everybody wants to be a part of it. Hopefully they will continue to be a part of (the voting process) because that is what we need — voter involvement."

Neighboring Calaveras County has also seen an increase in voter registration, but only slightly, said Elections Supervisor Sandy Rader.

She was unable to quantify the increase.

Several special-district elections, which are being conducted for the first time by mail-in ballots due later this month, might also be contributing to the increase, Rader said.

The deadline to register to vote in the Oct. 7 recall election is Sept. 22.

With several high-profile candidates, including actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, vying to replace Gov. Gray Davis, the recall election has dominated the airwaves and newspapers this summer.

That intense media coverage, combined with anger at Davis over the state's problems and some people's opposition to the recall, have contributed to the increase in voter rolls, said Professor Lawrence Giventer, who teaches in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at California State University, Stanislaus.

"People sort of relish the opportunity to put their two cents in," he said.

"It is an important issue. It is a form of entertainment. People are possibly not happy with the current state of affairs and now see an opportunity to get their opinion and choices attended to."

The heightened interest in the recall election comes less than a year after the lowest voter turnout at a regularly scheduled November election on record.

Statewide, only about 51 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2002 election that gave Davis a second term, according to figures from the California Secretary of State's office.

Nearly 61 percent of registered Tuolumne County voters participated in the election, while about 62 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Calaveras County.

Giventer said he didn't know whether the current interest in California politics will sustain itself after the recall election is over.

"I don't forecast that far ahead," he said. "I hope so."

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