02/22/2016 by Ed Coghlan
How civic engagement can help improve voter participation
Panelists from last year's Future of California Elections Conference. (Photo Credit: Angel Cardenas)
When the Future of California Elections (FoCE) annual meeting convenes this Thursday in Los Angeles, the focus will be on two important questions:
- How do we expand participation in the political process?
- How can we improve election administration in California?
One panel that caught our attention will discuss how to motivate California's diverse electorate in a state this big and complex.
“One of the challenges to high voter participation is that there are a lot moving pieces that aren’t always talking to each other,” said Jess Jollett, communications strategist for the ACLU of California's Voting Rights Project and panel moderator. “FoCE convenes and connects registrars, civil rights advocates, civic engagement groups, the Secretary of State and grassroots organizations. It is a very powerful process.”
California’s diverse demographics call for innovative and fresh strategies for voter mobilization. This engagement panel will discuss the work organizations do to find the most effective messaging and for moving California's diverse electorate.
Joining Jollett on the panel will be:
- Whitney May, Director of Government Services, Center for Technology and Civic Life
- Eren Mendez, Election Outreach Coordinator, Elections Division, Contra Costa County
- Kenya T. Parham, Political Strategist, Assistant Project Leader, African American Civic Engagement Project
- Karla Zombro, Field Director, California Calls
“The ability to engage with peers in the election field, as well as meet other election stakeholders that are working toward the collective effort of modernizing elections and expanding participation in California’s democracy can help in this year’s election and beyond,” Jollett added.
The work of FoCE allows advocates to think through how the state of California can budget to improve participation through civic engagement outreach that is smart and effective.
“For instance, consider technology,” she said. “For some technology is the fix. But in reality, it’s not a fix but a way to improve how we engage all populations.”
Can this year’s conference make a difference in this election year?
“I hope so,” she said. “But FoCE also can help make some long-term improvements.”
She pointed out that FoCE brings a group of diverse people and interests into the same room where they can work on ideas and subsequent legislation.
“The best thing about FoCE is every person and organization comes to the table with their own expertise and their own concerns,” Jollett pointed out. “We can serve as a body that have ideas that make sense and can offer advice on effective legislation and then be part of the implementation plan with a lot of knowledge.”
She acknowledged that California’s political system is “big and cumbersome” and that elected officials have a responsibility in helping improve participation. But the FoCE group has identified the right players that can have an impact on real democracy reform in California.
“Democratic integrity requires an electoral process that empowers voters and gives candidates and incumbents the incentives to listen and lead,” said Caitlin Maple of California Forward, which is a FoCE partner. “Working with like-minded leaders at FoCE can help achieve that goal.”
The FoCE Conference will be held at the California Endowment in Los Angeles this Thursday and Friday.