(photo: Ed Yourdon/Flickr)
When the votes were finally tallied for the California statewide primary on June 3, one of the most talked about issues was the low voter turnout. The state is home to more than 24 million eligible voters (18 million are registered). But on that June day, just 4.5 million people cast their ballots, making it the lowest turnout of any California statewide election — ever.
If you think about it, that means only 25 percent of registered voters (18 percent of eligible voters) decided issues important to every Californian with their ballots. One of the demographics with the lowest turnout rates was the Millennial generation (specifically voters in their 20s). In fact, a recent study conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics shows that less than one in four (23 percent) of Millennials plan to vote in the upcoming midterm election. Yikes.
“Honestly, I think I’ve voted like once or twice,” said 22-year-old Erin Lengerke, a San Diego State University senior. “I think it’s because I’m not informed enough, I don’t think I feel like I know everything I need to know yet.”
“I can vote, but none of the information is present to me,” her 19-year-old brother Tommy Lengerke said in agreement.
Access to information seems to be a big reason Millennials avoid the polls. And the information provided by the state is often hard to decipher. The Voter Information Guide, which is sent out before the election, is full of candidate statements, summaries and analysis as well as arguments and rebuttals on the propositions. It’s a thick pamphlet with a lot of detailed information that is not always accessible to the average voter.
“I think when I get that [voter information guide], I’m finding out about things for the very first time. I feel like if I’m reading a few sentences, am I even knowledgeable,” asked Chris Ellis, a 28-year-old student at California State University at Northridge.
Many Millennials are looking to alternative media to get their information. Twenty-eight year old Jax Gutierrez, a clothing buyer from Tarzana, turns to Reddit.com, “The Daily Show” and KCRW because she doesn’t trust traditional news. She recently moved back to the states after going to school and living abroad. “I preferred to watch the news in Australia and New Zealand because I didn’t feel it was so one-sided,” she said.
Creating a more informed electorate is one of the commitments California Forward has made to improve the democratic process and make elected officials more responsive to the public interest and representative of an ever-changing population of eligible voters.
To that end, California Forward is joining an effort spearheaded by MapLight and the League of Women Voters of California to create a comprehensive website for non-partisan information about all the ballot initiatives, races and even some local measures in the upcoming mid-terms called Voter’s Edge.
So, would Millennials be open to a new, easy way to access information on elections?
“It would definitely have to be a way that was easy, because if I was informed, I would for sure vote,” said Erin Lengerke.
Gutierrez agreed: “I would really like to put a bookmark on my computer and be able to revisit things in my downtime and be able to have somewhere to go to read everything I need to know.”
“I think I’m probably one of the very few Millennials that would vote for everything that I possibly could. I do take my vote very seriously,” Gutierrez added. She didn’t vote in the last presidential election because she was out of the country for several years and didn’t know enough about the issues.
With California just now on the road to recovery from 2008’s economic meltdown, there hasn’t been a lot of dollars spent on beefing up the state’s election infrastructure outside of offering online voter registration and creating a statewide polling lookup tool.
Organizations such as MapLight are stepping in to fill the void and by partnering with LWVC and their SmartVoter initiative, the latest iteration of VotersEdge.org promises to be the most comprehensive yet.
“If I had that website to go on everyday, yeah, I would [vote],” said Ellis. “I definitely feel like that would help.”