DiCamillo on “The Rapid Growth of Permanent Mail Ballot Registration in California and its Impact”

Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, published a piece in Survey Impacts on the growth of permanent absentee balloting in California and how it has changed the composition of the California electorate.

He shows that nearly one-third of California’s registered voters now opt for permanent by-mail status, and the higher probability of turnout among this segment of the registered voters, particularly in state and local contests, may have a significant impact on California elections and California politics.

For instance, DiCamillo shows that turnout in the 2006 gubernatorial contest among voters overall was 56.2%, while it was nearly 78%–a gap of more than 20 points–among permanent absentee voters.

This wouldn’t matter much if permanent absentee voters looked like the electorate at large, but they don’t.  As we’ve long known, these voters are older, whiter, wealthier, and somewhat unique to California, more likely to live in the Bay Area than in LA.  California registration data indicates that permanent absentee voters are nine points more Republican.

What does this mean?  DiCamillo has to be non-partisan in his comments, but the political implications seem pretty clear.  California general elections will be less affected by the skew in permanent absentee voting (the gap in the 2008 election, for instance, was only 7%), but in special elections, the skew can exceed 20 points.

This may translate into a solidly Democratic legislature, congressional delegation, and governorship, but with a special electorate that is significantly more conservative, Republican, and anti-tax.  Fiscal crisis, anyone?