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AT LAST WE MEET: State Senate candidates John Laird (left) and Sam Blakeslee met publicly for the first time at an Aug. 5 forum hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Ballot Boxing

An important election is happening on Aug. 17. Do you know where your polling places are?

By Traci Hukill

IT WASN'T the lowest turnout in the history of California balloting. That dubious honor goes to two state legislators from Los Angeles, whose 2009 special elections stand as sagging monuments to voter apathy: each drew 7.9 percent of registered voters.

But the turnout for the June 22 primary to fill the 15th Senate District seat—while, at 31.78 percent, is perfectly in line with most special elections—seems low for a contest deemed so important that the president of the United States has weighed in on it. Last week former Democratic Assemblymember John Laird announced that he'd won the endorsement of President Obama in advance of the Aug. 17 election, which pits him against frontrunner Sam Blakeslee, Republican Assemblymember of San Luis Obispo, independent Jim Fitzgerald and Libertarian Mark Hinkle. All four candidates will appear in public for only the second time in the course of the campaign when they meet Thursday, Aug. 12 at a forum at Cabrillo College (see Activate, this page).

That the race has caught Washington's attention is hardly surprising. At stake is nothing less than control of California's Legislature. In the state Senate, Democrats are two seats away from a supermajority, which would fundamentally alter the dynamic in Sacramento. Republicans find this an unappealing prospect and are fighting to maintain their numbers.

In the Monterey Bay area, there's something else at stake: local representation. That's been an issue since 2001, when legislative leaders agreed to redraw California's state Senate districts. By picking and choosing relatively conservative voting areas straight up the coast of the state, politicians in Sacramento were able to reposition the 15th District into a Republican stronghold. This resulted in a huge, oddly shaped legislative concoction that includes portions of five counties and lumps together such differing locales as Pismo Beach and Santa Maria with portions of Aptos, Monterey, Los Gatos and Morgan Hill.

The move also effectively left much of the Monterey Bay area without a representative in the Senate. Ever since the 15th District was gerrymandered, politicians from the large conservative voting base at the southern end of the district (like Santa Maria native Abel Maldonado, who held the seat until being appointed lieutenant governor in June) have came out on top in elections.

Much of that is no doubt due to the relative vigor of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara voters. In the June 22 primary, turnout in those counties was the highest of the five in the district, at 37.72 percent and 32.22 percent, respectively. At presstime, with the Aug. 17 election just days away, San Luis Obispo voters had, true to form, submitted nearly 39,000 mail-in ballots. In Santa Cruz County, which had the second-lowest turnout in the district at 27.66 percent, voters had turned in 10,559 mail-in ballots as of presstime.

But by themselves, those figures are meaningless, and the contest will ultimately be decided the old-fashioned way: by tallying votes at the end of election day.

Polling Places

The following polling places will be open on Tuesday, Aug. 17, from 7am to 8pm:

APTOS: Aegis of Aptos Assisted Living, 125 Heather Terrace

FELTON: Felton Bible Church, 5999 Graham Hill Road

LOS GATOS: Loma Prieta/CT English School, 23800 Summit Road

SANTA CRUZ: Santa Cruz County Health Center Auditorium, 1080 Emeline Ave.

SCOTTS VALLEY: Scotts Valley Community Center, 360 Kings Village Road

SOQUEL: Congregational Church of Soquel, 4951 Soquel Dr.

WATSONVILLE: Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, 85 Nielson St.

Corralitos Community Church, 26 Brown Valley Road

La Selva Beach Clubhouse, 314 Estrella Ave.

Watsonville Civic Center, Fourth Floor, Room 1, 275 Main St.

UC Agriculture Extension Service, 1432 Freedom Blvd.

With additional reporting by Jessica Fromm

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