09/22/2015 by Ed Coghlan
Registering to vote is only half the battle
Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day—and efforts are underway across the country to get more people to register to vote. Volunteers will be located at retail stores, transportation hubs, sporting events and other places that people congregate to increase registration.
In California, getting people to register to vote and then actually cast their ballot has been an increasing challenge. As a result, the issue has become a larger public policy issue.
In the November 2014 election (which many observers hope was when we hit bottom in voter participation), only one in three eligible Californians voted. It was even worse among fast growing ethnic groups. In California only 18 percent of Asian Americans and 17 percent of Latinos who were eligible to vote, actually cast their ballots.
As California Forward (CA Fwd) has noted, “for democracies to work, elected leaders need to be responsive and representative, and voters must be able to hold elected officials accountable for results.”
Implied in that language is that people actually will vote. Many groups in California are working to improve voter participation. One of those is the Future of California Elections (FoCE), which is a collaboration of elected officials, civil rights advocates and election reform advocates to examine and address the challenges facing the state of California election system.
FoCE Executive Director Vince Hall believes political leaders are hearing the concerns about low voter registration and turnout in California.
“The Governor, the Secretary of State and the legislature are working with local governments and other stakeholders to find real solutions to the systemic barriers making it harder for Californians to register and vote,” said Hall. “Everyone is committed to modernizing our systems, expanding our electorate, and giving every citizen a voice in the democratic process.”
The Legislature recently passed AB1461, which requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to send the Secretary of State any information that can automatically complete a qualified person’s voter registration. A recent explainer by CA Fwd’s Caitlin Maple and Phillip Ung explored the bill's implications for political party outreach. Governor Brown will make a decision on the bill within the next month.
Like Hall, Ung believes that state elected officials have put more focus on making voter participation easier for busy Californians.
CA Fwd is also working in another area that may help improve voter participation: an effort to explore ways to create consistent and sustainable funding for administering local, state and federal elections. With support from the James Irvine Foundation, CA Fwd is researching election-funding models nationwide and in California’s 58 counties to create a list of viable options for elections officials. These models will focus on sustainability, efficiency, and innovation, while making sure elections are adequately funded.
“Since the record low turnout in 2014, the Legislature and the Secretary of State have worked with a sense of urgency to find policy solutions to increase voter participation,” Ung said. “State leaders are making it easier to register to vote and they are hoping Californians will follow through and become an active participant in our democracy.”
“Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy, and we want to ensure they remain sustainably funded,” said Catherine Hazelton, senior program officer at the James Irvine Foundation. “We also are inspired by the potential for innovations that could expand voter participation as a result of improved funding mechanisms.”
As you can see, there is a lot of effort being undertaken in California to improve voter registration and voter participation.
It starts with one basic tenet.
Are you registered to vote?
If you aren’t, click here to take care of it.