DOWNTOWN Nov. 4 isn’t the only election day.

As the vote-by-mail population begins casting their ballots with a little under a month before the historic day, political campaigns are treating the next few weeks as the general election itself, kicking get-out-the-vote activities into high gear.

Approximately 17 percent of the more than 58,000 registered voters in Santa Monica have permanent absentee status, which means they automatically receive a ballot every election through the mail. The moderately high percentage of absentee voters typically translates into hectic campaigning in the weeks leading up to the election as candidates try to secure votes early on.

“We have to run two kinds of campaigns — one that treats the first and second weeks of October as election day and the other where we treat Nov. 4 as election day because you kind of have a mini get-out-the-vote operation for absentee voters,” Denny Zane, a political consultant on local campaigns, said. “That means you mail relatively early and you might start your phone banking early.

“You have to do several pieces of mail and it forces you to do early newspaper ads.”

Today marks the first day in which registered voters can request vote-by-mail applications from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. The application period ends on Oct. 28.

After receiving permanent absentee status, voters must cast a ballot in two consecutive general elections to retain the option to decide by mail. Voters who lose the status must reapply to have it reinstated.

Absentee voting has grown in popularity over the past several presidential elections, mainly because of the convenience of avoiding the long lines at the polls.

There were more than 635,000 absentee applications requested — or 16 percent of registered voters in Los Angeles County — and approximately 543,000 cast in the 2000 presidential election. Those numbers increased to more than 816,000 requested — or 21 percent of registered voters — and approximately 701,000 cast for the 2004 presidential election.

The county has received more than 600,000 applications for the election next month, but expects that number to increase given the historic nature this year.

“We’re obviously expecting a large turnout this year,” Paul Drugan, the executive assistant to the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, said.

Drugan pointed out the conveniences with voting absentee, including a feature on the County Clerk’s Web site that allows voters to track their ballots after mailing them in. Absentee voters also have the option of handing in their ballots at any polling place on election day.

Richard Fox, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, said that absentee ballots were normally utilized by physically disabled voters who had mobility issues in getting to the polls, and those who were out of town.

As campaigns became more organized, absentee ballots became a way to ensure voter support earlier in the game.

“This idea is a central part of any campaign strategy which is to distribute (the applications) to anybody who will take one and vote,” Fox said.

Candidates who are running for local office say they plan and time campaigning efforts to target both the absentee and election-day voters.

Councilmember Bobby Shriver, who is running for re-election, said he recently sent out a mailer just in time to get the absentee population.

“Once they register as permanent absentee, they are committed voters so they are very likely to vote,” Shriver said.

Jose Escarce, the Board of Education vice president who is running for re-election, said that all candidates make sure they do extensive door-to-door campaigning around the time absentee voters receive their ballots in the mail.

“If you’re going to do any extensive door-to-door canvassing, you do it two ways — one is before the dates when people cast absentee and the other is the date for the general election,” Escarce said.

melodyh@smdp.comb