By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/03/2012 02:46:50 PM PDT
Updated: 11/03/2012 04:30:45 PM PDT

A record number of registered voters who haven’t mailed in ballots could trudge to polls across Southern California on Tuesday for a nailbiter of an election.

But few expect them to nudge the neck-and-neck presidential showdown between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, whose victory may be decided by other key states.

Instead, residents will for the first time choose leaders from top-two primary candidates – including fierce combatants within their own party – drawn from new citizen-defined districts. This has made for at least 10 competitive House races.

They’ll also chart a vital course for the cash-strapped Golden State. This means deciding among 11 state ballot measures on the fate of the death penalty, three-strikes prison terms, the political future of organized labor and billions of dollars budgeted for K-college education and more.

“What’s interesting this year is our ballot is dominated by statewide ballot measures that could impact the future of California,” said Dean C. Logan, Los Angeles County registrar-recorder/county clerk.

To influence votes, what appears to be a record amount of campaign money has rained down from out of state, election officials and analysts say, much of it drawn from newly legal special-interest, super-PAC funds.

By the time weary voters reach the bottom of their tickets Tuesday, they’ll have chosen among a slew of local tax measures and issues – from porn condoms to transit taxes in Los Angeles County to a sex scandal-related recall in San Fernando to a soda tax in El Monte to the first local tax in La Mirada history.

“In California, we have a ton of ballot initiatives,” said Lawrence Becker, a political science professor at California State Northridge. “Too many. Too much confusion.

“It’s frankly ridiculous. The initiative process is so broken, it’s depressing.”

And confusing.

Consider Prop. 30, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, and Prop. 38, bankrolled by civil-rights attorney Molly Munger, two tax measures that would generate billions for education. Experts say their fate depends on whether voters believe their money will be spent wisely.

Prop. 32 would strip unions and corporations from spending money deducted from paychecks for politics. While it wouldn’t affect corporations, it could end an era of labor clout in California.

While unions spent millions of dollars to support Prop. 30 and fight Prop. 32, millions more has been spent in opposition, much of it from out of state.

One $11-million check came from the Arizona-based Americans for Responsible Leadership, a clandestine nonprofit that appealed a California court order to disclose its members.

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