Doug Chapin and Vince Hall: Increasing voter participation is a California imperative

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(Photo Credit: Denise Cross/Flickr)

With only 15 months until Californians head to the polls to help choose the next President, record-low voter turnout continues to alarm experts while citizen’s apathy pushes many not to vote at all. Less than 75 percent of eligible Californians are registered to vote, with only 31 percent voting in the 2014 general election – the numbers are appalling for non-presidential elections. Voter participation is lowest amongst communities of color, voters with disabilities and young voters – only 8 percent of whom voted in 2014.

These negative trends have national implications. California is a leading voice in national elections and is home to the nation’s largest and most diverse population – a microcosm of America now and in the future. The state has a unique opportunity and responsibility to solve complex problems like low voter turnout and provide a model for the rest of the nation.

As 2015 dawns, the state must seize the prospect to start fresh and begin to tackle some of the challenges facing California’s election system. Newly elected Secretary of State Alex Padilla has taken office with tremendous energy and a commitment to the goals of expanding participation and resolving many of the lingering uncertainties facing the state’s election system.

Fortunately, he and his team won’t be alone in that effort.

This week in Sacramento, the Future of California Elections (FoCE) will convene its third annual conference titled “Working Together for a More Inclusive Democracy.” FoCE was created in 2011 with the help of The James Irvine Foundation to bring together civil rights advocates, good government groups and election officials to expand participation and improve election administration across California.

Most importantly, the group has committed itself to identifying areas of consensus on reform: common sense, forward-looking and evidence-based approaches that improve California elections for voters and election officials alike.

A big reason for this week’s conference is the direct cooperation with community groups and local election offices in order to go beyond merely discussing the problems facing the state and onto actually solving them. The focus will fall upon three key areas of FoCE’s work to improve California’s election system:

  1. Access to voter registration – as the state continues to expand online voter registration, there are countless ways to ensure that every eligible Californian has the opportunity to register to vote or update their record, whether at government agencies or other entities like public utilities or private businesses;
  2. Voting experience – as California becomes more diverse, it is vital that the election system be accessible to all voters regardless of English proficiency or disability – with information available in print and online in plain language usable by each individual voter; and
  3. Election administration – as California’s election system continues to undergo tremendous change, from the expansion of vote-by-mail to include new voting options to new development of new voting technology – it is crucial that local election offices get sufficient guidance and funding from the state to carry out state election law.

It’s a long and ambitious to-do list, but one which is doable with the cooperation of everyone committed to reform.

This week’s conference represents an invaluable opportunity for voices across California to come together to talk about  – and plan for – a future where every eligible Californian is registered to vote, and every voter participates as an informed and motivated citizen, regardless of their language, disability or location. Working together we can put California at the forefront of election policy nationwide.

Vince Hall is executive director of the Future of California Elections (FoCE). Doug Chapin is a consultant to FoCE who helped found the project and directed it for three years.


Doug Chapin and Vince Hall

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