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California's Paperless Political Campaigns

'Day to Day' Series

In previous election years, it was easy to understand the pain environmentalists feel as they saw all the paper expended in political campaigns, even in off years.

In many cities, flyers are usually stuffed in doorjambs, signs declaring support for one candidate or another are spiked into front lawns and mailboxes overflow with repeated pleas from politicians and their parties.

That's certainly how Southern California looked when I covered the gubernatorial recall vote three years ago that ousted former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and ushered in Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Fast-forward to today: Most lawns are paper-free. The people I interviewed in greater Los Angeles and San Francisco last week expressed surprise that they didn't risk slipping on campaign flyers that have usually waterfalled through their mail slots in their front hallways.

Even plate glass windows in the small businesses that traditionally allow placards and billboards for the candidate of their choice are mostly bare this year. "This is just an educated guess, but I think the campaigns are going a different route this time," says political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.

"In the old days, it was paper. But campaigns have found out that thanks to technological advances, they can target households pretty well using other methods — like e-mail, which is instantaneous, and cheaper," she says.

Article continues after sponsorship, the Schwarzenegger campaign Web site, sends volleys of updates whenever the governor's machine deems it necessary. Angelides spokesman Sam Rodriguez says his candidate is able to more effectively reach people this way, too.

"It's so refined now that we can even pinpoint the democratic part of a two-party household," Rodriguez says.

Politicians are quickly becoming more sophisticated about using the Internet as a primary campaign tool, says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. "I have never in my life gotten so much e-mail," she says. "And don't forget the blogs."

Technology has given candidates the ability to almost instantaneously analyze or spin how a candidate and the opposition are doing at any point.

"We're in uncharted waters, and it doesn't surprise me that maybe at last the paperless society in politics is becoming somewhat of a reality," Jeffe says. "We'll see."