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How the Registration Boom Will Play Out on Election Day

Nearly 183,000 county residents had joined voter rolls as of May 14. The surge has especially benefited Democrats. Of the new local registrants, 77,000 have been Democrats while 45,000 are Republicans and 49,000 aren’t part of a party.

We’ve decided to include all our efforts to understand the 2016 election under the banner of San Diego Decides. As part of that, I’ll be writing a biweekly look at what’s happening in the races facing San Diego voters in 2016. It’ll include new reporting, follow-ups on bigger stories and a round-up of other coverage of local races. To get the complete picture of the local election landscape, make sure you also check out the San Diego Decides podcast, hosted by Sara Libby and Ry Rivard. — Andrew Keatts

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Thousands of new potential San Diego voters registered this year, forcing local political analysts to wonder whether conventional rules of June elections still apply.

A California registration boom has brought in potentially 2 million new voters across the state, according to Political Data Inc., a company that provides voter data to political campaigns.

That includes nearly 183,000 county residents who joined voter rolls as of May 14. That was nearly two weeks before the May 23 deadline, when a flurry of registrations usually comes in, so it’s likely more than 200,000 locals have become eligible to vote this year.

The surge has especially benefited Democrats. Of the new local registrants, 77,000 have been Democrats while 45,000 are Republicans and 49,000 aren’t part of a party.

“Essentially what we’ve had is general election-level new registrations,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc.

Many of those new voters have been driven by national politics – Mitchell said the spike really started just after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire presidential primary.

But it hasn’t just been enthusiasm for the top of the ticket. Facebook posted a banner ad two weeks ago encouraging people to register, and nearly 200,000 registrations came in over 48 hours, Mitchell said.

San Diego has had its own factors, too.

Michael Vu, San Diego County’s Registrar of Voters, pointed to the 11 local and statewide petitions collecting signatures in hopes of making the November ballot. Signature-gatherers need people to be registered voters before a signature is worth anything, so they tend to carry registration forms with them.

In effect, each paid signature-gatherer has turned into a paid Rock the Vote worker.

“Don’t forget, they’re paying a pretty penny for every signature, too,” Vu said.

The enthusiasm is making people question the conventional wisdom that June primaries favor local Republicans. If the boom in registration translates to a boom in voting, this June might be different for local Democrats.

Mitchell, focusing statewide, said new registrations haven’t translated into new votes. Yet.

Of newly registered voters, he said, 65 percent are under 35. But of those who’ve already voted, just 10 percent are under 35.

“It’s looking a lot more like we would expect of a traditional primary, and not yet looking like groundbreaking turnout the way it is in registration,” Mitchell said.

Mason Herron has been using Mitchell’s data to track who has voted already in San Diego, at San Diego Rostra, and found some surprising results. Namely, of the 157,000 people who have already voted in San Diego, 42 percent have been Democrats.

“This is a decidedly blue primary,” said Vince Vasquez, senior policy analyst at the National University System Institute for Policy Research, who creates reports on turnout expectations using information from Political Data Inc.

The shift could upend expectations in key races. In District 1, Republican Ray Ellis was thought to have a chance of winning a City Council seat outright in June. In the city attorney’s race, it’s always been seen as likely that Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey, the only Republican running, would advance to a November runoff. Mayor Kevin Faulconer was seen as safe bet to win outright.

“I would say that these new registered voters are a real wild card in the city of San Diego, including really District 1 and the city attorney’s race,” Vasquez said. “I’ve been speaking to candidates and campaign managers, and I get the sense that they won’t be surprised if something totally unexpected happens – something that totally defies conventional wisdom.”

On the Campaign Trail

• Democratic mayoral candidate Ed Harris said at a debate last week that the best way for the city to combat booming housing prices was to build more housing near transit. That’s a popular opinion among city policymakers – but it wasn’t one held by Harris two years ago when he was on the City Council.

• City Council aide Anthony Bernal, a Democrat, has pulled in endorsements from all manner of the city’s center-right establishment, including Faulconer and the regional Chamber of Commerce – support that’s made him a pariah among his fellow Democrats. Our Lisa Halverstadt tried to understand what the business groups see in Bernal. It comes down to his opposition to the state’s minimum wage hike, and their experience dealing with him on things like a recent proposed hike on fees for low-income housing.

• Every candidate running to represent District 9 on the City Council is a Democrat. And every one of them thinks it’s time the city consider undoing some of the voter-approved 2012 intiaitve on pension reform, which gave new city hires 401(k)s instead of guaranteed pensions, Ry Rivard reported.

• The San Diego Union-Tribune’s editorial board started releasing its endorsements last week, making clear it had a new approach to local politics. The historically center-right paper endorsed labor organizer Sarah Saez in District 9, Democratic City Attorney candidate Gil Cabrera, and District 1 Democratic candidate Barbara Bry, among others. The head of the editorial board, Matthew T. Hall, joined our podcast last week to share his perspective.

• Deputy City Attorney Mara Elliott, one of four Democrats running for city attorney, released a new video on social media this week comparing Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos’s campaign commercials to former Mayor Bob Filner’s ads from 2012. As Scott Lewis wrote on Twitter, the ad doesn’t take the extra step of pointing out to viewers what Filner did once elected, which might have made explicit why the comparison isn’t so flattering.

• Environmental attorney Bryan Pease, one of the other Democrats running for city attorney, was among those arrested Friday during protests following Donald Trump’s campaign rally. He discussed the experience with 10 News, and later compared the conditions in San Diego jail to, I kid you not, a concentration camp.

• Prop. H sounds great on the ballot: It’ll direct millions of dollars to the city’s languishing infrastructure. U-T reporter David Garrick reported on the well-traveled concerns that it doesn’t do anything to make the state of roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure better; it would just slow the rate at which they get worse.

• U-T editor Michael Smolens and I share a lament: Many of the races that once looked exciting this cycle have fizzled before Election Day.

• San Diego’s firefighters union endorsed Bry in her District 1 race. It’s weird, then, that the group sent out a mailer recently promoting Bry as well as one of her opponents, Bruce Lightner. Lightner, husband of current District 1 Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, has been accused of joining the race to siphon votes away from Ellis and make it less likely he could win outright in June, which Lightner has denied. (KPBS)

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