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The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

GOP to Dems: Why Not Take Election Day Off?

The "why bother" theory of politics may be the Republicans' best hope.

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Opinion: Why Not Take Election Day Off?

AP

Native son Barack Obama has pushed Illinois to become even bluer.

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Like most political operatives, California's GOP consultants have any number of strategies aimed at helping their party gain office in the state.

But the best way for Republicans to hold on to what small influence the party has in California may be a simple one: get the Democrats to stay home on election day.

It may not be hard to do.

Even in close races, Democrats don't vote as much as Republicans.

Large numbers of Democrats are disproportionately less affluent, less educated, and first generation voters, attributes that tend to lessen the likelihood of turnout.

Which wouldn't matter much if all that was at stake in November was the presidential election.

California is widely expected to support president Barack Obama against his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.

Getting some of the Democrats to take election day off wouldn't do much to change that outcome.

But there's a lot more at stake in the November 6 election then the presidency.

A big turnout among Democrats could make significant changes to the political scene in Sacramento, positioning Democrats to make their already lopsided presence even bigger and potentially allowing them to make major decisions without any Republican input at all.

Already, Democrats hold 25 of the 40 senate seats and 52 of the 80 assembly seats.

You'd think that would be more than enough for Democrats to run the show, but the state constitution requires absolute two thirds votes to make the most critical decisions, particularly with respect to raising taxes.

Under Proposition 13, passed by the voters in 1978, such "super-majorities" are required to raise taxes and the Democrats, even with their large presence, have not been able to persuade GOP colleagues to join them to create a two-thirds vote.

And that's why turnout becomes so important.

If Obama wins and his supporters come out in large numbers, Democrats stand a chance of overcoming the absolute two-thirds barrier, giving them the opportunity to raise badly needed revenues.

If, however, Obama voters have a low turnout, their absence may be enough for Republicans to prevent the Democrats from reaching the absolute two-thirds majorities in one or both chambers. 

Yes, there's a lot at stake this coming November, from the top of the ballot to the bottom. And turnout will tell us more about the state's future than simply the election of the next president.

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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