Strong handling of voter turnout

While problems of ballot availability or design did erupt in neighboring Bay Area counties and Los Angeles, Examiner readers in San Francisco and on the Peninsula who turned out en masse for Super Tuesday had their votes tallied quickly and without glitches. To be honest, we are breathing a sigh of relief that local primaries went so well.

After The City’s embarrassing electoral meltdown in November, when it took a week to hand-count the results due to the state’s last-minute disqualification of our electronic voting machines, we could only hope for the best. But on Feb. 5, the Department of Elections rose to the challenge and provided a meaningful count by 11 p.m.

This time San Francisco precincts were fully prepared for a high turnout, having borrowed additional vote-counting equipment from Riverside County. There were also enough paper ballots for every voter, unlike the inexcusable foul-ups across Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties — where poll workers had to fall back on foreign language or sample ballots to meet demand.

It was an unaccustomed pleasure to experience California having major relevance in the presidential nominating process, and we would like more of that in the future. With hotly contested races for both the Democratic and Republican nominations, California voters participated in record-breaking numbers and proved they will take primary elections seriously when meaningful choices are at stake.

Now that California’s 2008 presidential primary is over, it is evident that moving up our date to Super Tuesday was largely a winner. True, we were on center stage and enjoyed major economy-boosting infusions of candidate TV-and-travel spending for only a week or so. And with the Democratic race still neck-and-neck, California might have had even greater impact if our primary were the grand finale of this year’s cycle. But such a wide-open campaign would have been impossible to predict any earlier.

Still it must be said that California’s earlier presidential primary was simply a sensible adaptation to a flawed process that encourages rival states to move their voting dates earlier and earlier. This forced candidates to begin campaigning for the White House almost 18 months before Election Day while frantically raising vast sums of money. There seems little value to this grueling ordeal, while the public is months away from paying real attention.

There must be a better way. Presidential campaigns ought to be shortened to a reasonable length, which could be done by federal law. Unlike Electoral College reform, a constitutional amendment is not required. Interesting suggestions have surfaced in the press recently. One workable possibility would be to mandate regional primaries (North, South, Central, West) held one month apart during the spring of election year, with each region taking turns going first.

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