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GOP Worried About Early Election-Night Call in Presidential Race

October 30, 1996

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Results from the presidential race could well be broadcast before Bernie Tanner heads out to vote Tuesday evening. If so, the Californian may just sit this election out.

Republican officials are worried that an early call by the TV networks could dampen West Coast turnout, hinder GOP efforts to retain control of the House and Senate and even hurt other candidates further down the ballot.

``If they told me the (presidential) election had been won, I wouldn’t go out after 6 o’clock to vote,″ said Tanner, 77, of San Diego. ``Why should I if my vote doesn’t count?″

Voters in the Pacific time zone, which lags three hours behind the East, could face the dilemma Tuesday if the presidential race turns into a blowout for President Clinton over Republican challenger Bob Dole.

It could affect the outcome of key House and Senate races as Republicans battle to retain control of Congress, say GOP officials in California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada. Other Western states, including Arizona and Colorado, are on Mountain time, two hours behind the East.

``I call it voter turnout suppression,″ California GOP chairman John Herrington said Wednesday. ``This directly impacts turnout in a very big way. ... It’s hard to imagine a worse example of public policy or public responsibility.″

It happened in 1980. Then-President Jimmy Carter conceded the race to Ronald Reagan before the polls had closed on the West Coast, based on exit poll projections conducted and broadcast by the television networks.

Politicians and voters in the West were irate, claiming congressional races were affected.

This year, polls close nationwide at varying times _ from 6 p.m. EST to midnight EST. In California, the polls close at 11 p.m. EST.

Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour says declaring a winner in the presidential race before all the polls close probably most hurts turnout for the losing party. Once the contest for the White House is finished, ``the networks are telling people `Now there’s no reason to go. The election’s over,‴ he said.

Network policy is not to declare a presidential winner in a state until a majority of polls in that state have closed. But this year, if the race is as one-sided as opinion polls indicate, Clinton could clinch the magic 270 electoral votes needed to win two hours before voting is done out West.

Lane Venardos, a CBS News vice president, discounts such worries. ``We have uncovered not one whit of actual evidence that because some TV network called a presidential race before the polls closed anybody ever decided not to go to the poll or to leave the poll before casting his vote,″ he said.

But Stanley Moore, a political science professor at Pepperdine University, said there could be repercussions in close candidate and issues battles.

``We are likely to see some very close races in California. In some districts, if Republicans get discouraged and don’t show up at the polls, it could hurt them,″ Moore said.

People like Jorge Hernandez plan to vote no matter what. The 19-year-old biology student at San Diego State University cites his interest in Proposition 209, the California ballot measure that would ban gender- and race-based preferences in hiring, college admissions and the awarding of government contracts. But he wonders about other voters.

``It could be a discouragement to people out here,″ said Hernandez. ``It makes them feel hopeless and furthers their belief that their vote doesn’t count.″

Other California issues that could motivate voters include proposed reforms to the health management industry and the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Oregon Republican Chairman Randy Miller doubts an early call of the presidential race will have much effect on his state’s turnout. He noted that a growing number of Oregonians vote by absentee ballot.

``They’ve been calling the race for the last month. What’s the big news flash?″ Miller said of the presidential contest.

In Washington state, all statewide seats are up for grabs, including the governorship.

``It adds an element to the campaign ... that other states may not have,″ said Todd Myers, spokesman for the state GOP party. ``But the networks should be encouraged to make sure this is a vote the whole country gets to participate in.″

That’s Jeff Navolt’s philosophy.

``I don’t want to know who’s won,″ said the 23-year-old San Diegan. ``But I guess I’d vote anyway _ for whoever I want, no matter what they say.″

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