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Absentees on the Rise

More than half of Sonoma County's voters have requested absentee ballots and thousands of these ballots have already been cast. By Monday, about 22,000 completed ballots had reached the county Registrar of Voters and thousands more are pouring in each day, says elections specialist Debbie Justice. About 127,000 of the county's 242,000 voters have requested absentee ballots, she says. In Napa, about a third of the county's voters had requested absentee ballots while in Marin the figure is over 40 percent. Most of these absentee voters are "permanent" absentees, having requested to vote in all elections without going to the polls. Until 2000, only disabled people could vote as permanent absentees, but state law changed and allowed anyone to become a permanent absentee. Sonoma County now has 108,000 permanent absentee voters, says assistant registrar of voters Janice Atkinson. "The first couple of elections after the law changed, we had a 40,000-voter increase in permanent absentees each time," she says. "It almost killed us." Napa registrar of voters John Tuteur says his county now has 16,000 permanent absentees, about 26 percent of the electorate. Marin's tally is 62,000 permanent absentees of its 146,000 voters. In parts of the country, absentee voting has been driven partly by electronic voting. Some people don't trust paperless voting and request absentee ballots. But Atkinson emphasized that Sonoma County has no plans to institute electronic voting except to help disabled people vote without assistance.

What Noble Cause?

Cindy Sheehan, who became a household name this summer when she demanded that President Bush meet with her, appeared Sunday in Marin to call for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Flanked by U.S. Reps. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma, Barbara Lee of Oakland and Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, Sheehan called for nonviolent, civil disobedience to bring an end to the war. Sheehan, who has demanded that Bush explain what "noble cause" her son, Casey, died for, believes that protests won't end the war and advocates Martin Luther King–style nonviolent actions. Her appearance came as U.S. military deaths in Iraq are on the verge of hitting 2,000. Though significant, this number is a small fraction of deaths caused by the Iraq war. Veteran British war corresponded Robert Fisk says up to 5,000 civilians are being killed monthly in Iraq. The Pentagon doesn't keep track of civilian deaths, but a study published a year ago in the Lancet, a British medical journal, said 100,000 deaths may have occurred by last fall. Sunday's event was co-sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County (www.peaceandjusticesonomaco.org). The Marin Peace and Justice Coalition is joining groups around the country to organize a vigil for the day after the grim milestone of 2,000 dead soldiers is reached. For more information, see www.mpjc.org.

--Briefs by Michael Shapiro

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From the October 26-November 1, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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