California voting participation numbers are bad — is help on the way?

150 150 John Guenther

California’s OVR hasn’t yet prevented dismal Census statistics on voting in the state. (Photo: moonShadows7)

The new Census Report on Registration and Voting for the 2012 Election out this week tells a grim story about voter participation in the state: We are near the bottom in both voter registration and voter participation. The state has less than two-thirds (65.6 percent)  of our voting age citizen population registered, which ranks 45th.  When it comes to voting, it’s even worse. California ranks 48th.

This is despite the advances in online voter registration that was implemented ahead of last year’s general election. It allowed more than 590,000 new California voters to successfully register to vote in November.

California Secretary of State Bowen’s office touted its work in improving voter turnout, including its Democracy at Work Program.

“It’s a no cost effort in which we encourage businesses, state and local government agencies, colleges and other organizations to reach Californians with non-partisan messages in newsletters, paystubs, and social media,” said Shannan Velayas of the Secretary of State’s office.

And yet voter turnout numbers trail almost every state in the nation.

There is a group trying to improve these dismal participation numbers, and that’s the Future of California Elections (FOCE), which includes a number of organizations that are working to identify opportunities  to modernize the state’s election system while expanding participation in every segment of the electorate. FOCE was formed in late 2011 to examine and address the challenges facing the State of California’s election system.

“As California moves toward key milestones like integrating online registration into more state and local services and implementing a statewide voter registration database, it will create opportunities for all eligible Californians to register and cast a ballot,” said Doug Chapin, FOCE Director.

One of the groups working with FOCE is California Forward.

“We have much to do in terms of overall voter registration and participation,” said Caroline Vance Bruister, who directs California Forward’s efforts on increasing voter participation and education. “Making sure Californians have the right information to feel informed and are empowered to participate in our democracy is essential to improving the outcomes of government which is a critical piece of our work.”

The Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting and Registration Supplement is a nationally representative sample survey that collects information on voting shortly after an election in November. The CPS supplement estimates the number of people who registered to vote and who voted based on direct interviews with household respondents. 

Many factors contribute to overall turnout. States with Same Day registration, which allows voters to register or update their registration status at the polls or at their local election office on election day and then cast a regular ballot, have consistently higher turnout according to Nonprofit Vote. (States with Election Day registration had an average turnout of 71.3 percent, 12.5 points higher than the turnout in states without EDR according to Nonprofit Vote. Those states had an average turnout rate of 58.8 percent).

Gov. Brown signed  Same Day Registration legislation last year (AB1436 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, California) and California became the 10th state in the country to approve same-day registration. The implementation of Same Day Registration is contingent upon a new centralized statewide voter registration database system, VoteCal, being up and running.

The Secretary of State established the VoteCal Voter Registration Database Project to develop and implement the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. The state of California has selected  CGI Group to  implement California’s new centralized statewide voter registration database system, VoteCal, providing a single official source of voter registration information. The contract is valued at nearly $39 million over the next four years.

Dean Logan, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, tweeted today that this decision was a long time in coming but that he was glad it had finally been made. Logan is one of the state’s leading voices on making the electoral process more accessible. He is a member of FOCE.


John Guenther

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