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CA: Mailing it in Could Mean Waiting it Out

By Robert Barnes
The voting has already started in California. It's when the counting will end that has some folks nervous.

The Golden State has taken to the idea of voting by mail in such a big way that Contra Costa County Clerk Stephen Weil doesn't like to even call it absentee voting anymore. About a third of the state's nearly 15.7 million voters have requested such ballots, and state officials believe about half of the vote will be cast via absentee ballots.

The problem for those anxiously awaiting the outcome of Super Tuesday's biggest prize is that the ballots can be turned in right up to the time California polls close Tuesday night. As a result, Weil estimates that more than 1 million votes -- perhaps far more than that -- won't be counted election night.

That could be crucial in what appear to be tightening presidential races on both the Democratic and Republican side.
Those votes that came in prior to the weekend will be the first counted, Weir said. Election officials are allowed to start opening the ballots seven days before the election, and the counting will begin as soon as the polls close. But less than half the absentees had been returned by then.

The counting that begins Tuesday at 11 pm EST could go on for quite some time.

The delegate allocation will not be a simple affair either.

It's fairly straight-forward on the Republican side. The winner in each of the state's 53 congressional districts wins three delegates, and the statewide victor gets 11 "bonus" delegates.

But calculators are required for the Democrats. Each congressional district has been allocated three, four, five or six delegates, depending on the district's Democratic leanings in past presidential votes. Delegates are awarded proportionally to a candidate with a minimum of 15 percent support.

In districts in which there are an even number of delegates, a candidate who loses but keeps it close can still lay claim to half the delegates. But the candidate ahead in districts with an odd number of delegates will get more than the loser. In addition, 129 delegates will be awarded proportionally based on the statewide vote.

Having spent much of the past week in the state, the major candidates are elsewhere today, leaving it to surrogates to spread the word. Former President Bill Clinton crisscrossed the state, rallying support for Hillary Rodham Clinton at events like one at Santa Ana College. "Will California stick with her as you always have?" he implored.

Meanwhile, the major Republicans are heading back West.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney added a Long Beach rally tonight to his itinerary, and Sen. John McCain announced plans to be in Los Angeles on Election Day before heading back to Arizona.

By Washington Post editors  |  February 4, 2008; 8:38 PM ET
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