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Our View: Assembly 4 race is so nice, you’ll want to vote twice

Our View
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Next month, Auburn-area voters will join others from Roseville to the Nevada border in testing the state’s new Open Primary law. But it’s more than a test, as the outcome could likely pit two Republicans against each other in a largely Republican-populated Assembly District 4. That’s among a field of eight candidates that met the filing deadline. Voters would be well served to learn as much as possible about the candidates in the next few weeks, and make definitive plans to cast a vote on Tuesday, March 8 — or before if you happen to be among the many permanent mail-ballot voters. Anything less is a failure in representative government. Eight candidates have filed for the open seat vacated by state Sen. Ted Gaines, who left the Assembly when he won a special election in early January to replace the late Dave Cox in Senate District 1. Republican candidates include John Allard, Bogdan Ambrozewicz, Cheryl Bly-Chester, Beth Gaines, Rob Matthews, Mike O’Connor and Matt Williams. The lone Democratic candidate is Dennis Campanale. It’s a diverse field that includes a sitting Roseville City Council member in Allard, a county Republican Central Committee member in Bly-Chester, the wife of the departing legislator in Beth Gaines, and Ted Gaines’ opponent from the November election in Campanale. Ambrozewicz is an ultramarathon runner from Greenwood, while attorney Williams hails from the South Lake Tahoe area and O’Connor is a retired personnel director from Lincoln. You’ll need a scorecard to tell the candidates from one another, and the Journal will do its best over the next several weeks to be that guide for you. But it won’t mean a whole lot unless you vote on March 8 — and history suggests that only a small portion of voters will. While more than 60 percent of voters cast ballots in the November election for the District 4 Assembly seat, only 26 percent showed up earlier last month to vote Ted Gaines into the Senate. That percentage is about average for similar special elections that don’t have other races or issues on the ballot. If only a quarter of the 300,000 or so registered voters in the district cast ballots next month — barring one candidate winning the seat with more than 50 percent of the vote — we could conceivably have the two leading candidates move on to a May 3 runoff with the support of less than 5 percent of registered voters in the district, and less than 3 percent of those eligible to vote. And if the special election in May generates about the same turnout, the winner could win with as little as 37,500 votes — or less than 10 percent of eligible voters in the district. While much has been said about the cost of the three special elections to complete the Gaines transfer to the Senate — estimated at $500,000 to $600,000 per contest — what’s nearly as ghastly is the lack of a voter mandate these elections will generate. When Proposition 14 was passed by voters in June 2010, few would have imagined it would play out under such circumstances. Proponents expected the measure would draw out more moderate candidates, which in turn might cause voters to elect more moderate members to the state Assembly and Senate. As we all get to know the candidates more over the next several weeks, we’ll know whether that prediction will ring true. Another step toward moderation could come with the redrawing of Assembly and Senate district lines, which should be completed by August. Either way, the surest form of elected representation comes with a high voter turnout. If you’re a registered voter, plan to fill out your mail ballot — which should start arriving in mailboxes Feb. 11 — or head to the polls on March 8. There might not be a slew of other races or measures to pique your interest, but then democracy shouldn’t have to work that hard. Should it?