Flood of Absentee Ballots Tied to Measure M Effort

TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

A record number of absentee ballots for an off-year election--about 20,000--is flooding Orange County Registrar of Voters Don Tanney's office, apparently in response to heavy targeting of residents by those who support Measure M, the proposed half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.

Friday, as the absentee ballots piled up in Tanney's office, county employees scrambled to verify that the signatures on them were valid.

"I've never seen anything like it in an off-year election," Tanney said. "I expect a few thousand more will come in over the weekend, and, of course, we'll get another few thousand on Election Day at the polling places."

The previous record for an off-year election was 10,856 absentee ballots cast in November, 1987. Tanney cautioned, however, that no comparisons with Tuesday's election can be accurate because this is a special, countywide tax election that is occurring at the same time as some previously scheduled voting in several cities--elections in school, water and community service districts.

Tanney said that absentee ballots traditionally are excellent predictors of the final election outcome. One notable exception occurred in 1986, however, when Newport Beach residents defeated the proposed expansion of Newport Center even though absentee balloting went the other way by a wide margin.

The Committee for Yes on M, which has raised and spent more than $2 million so far, mostly money from developers, mailed more than 50,000 absentee ballot applications to people identified in surveys as likely supporters.

"I obviously don't know how good their targeting is, but I'd guess their effort has been pretty successful," said Jerry Yudelson, a key opponent of Measure M, adding: "But the result really depends on who gets out and votes on Election Day."

"I don't think this is happening in a vacuum," said Measure M campaign chairman Bruce Nestande, a former county supervisor who serves on the California Transportation Commission. "It must be paying off."

Nestande said that, since last week, 8,000 people returned cards to his committee saying that their names could be used for endorsement purposes or for other campaign-related work. In addition, a bank of telephone callers and a team of precinct walkers has been identifying about 4,000 voters each day as definitely favoring Measure M, an effort that serves as the foundation for a get-out-the-vote drive on Tuesday.

VOTER MAIL IT IN

The use of absentee ballots in Orange County's off-year elections has increased in the past decade as campaign managers fine tune their ability to target specific voters and send them absentee ballot request forms.

VOTES CAST

1981: 6,245

1983: 8,715

1985: 7,076

1987: 10,856

1989: 20,000 by 10 a.m. Friday

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