Once again California finds itself at the bottom of the heap in a state-by-state comparison of election performance.
Election administration in California is improving, but at a pace below the national average, says a report released Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Updated with data from 2012, Pew’s latest Elections Performance Index scored states on 17 metrics, including turnout, voter registration, rejected ballots, and polling place wait times. Coming in at 49th, California ranks among the five lowest-performing states for the third consecutive election cycle.
While California was given credit for slashing polling place wait times in half, it was dinged for being one of only two states that don’t provide voters with web-based statewide voting and election information lookup tools. The study, however, doesn’t take into account that many counties provide online search tools allowing voters to look up their polling place, registration status, and election information.
According to the report, California leads the nation in unreturned vote-by-mail ballots and has one of the highest rates of provisional ballots cast and rejected. While the high rates can be attributed to a variety of causes, “many of them derive from how inaccurate California’s voter rolls are,” said David Becker, director Pew’s election initiatives project.
The problem, Becker says, is people only think about voter registration in presidential election years. “That means if someone moved in December 2012, local elections officials aren’t going to know about it until October of 2016,” explained Becker. “In the meantime you’ve had statewide elections, midterm elections, and local elections.”
California could significantly, and relatively quickly, improve voter roll accuracy and boost the abysmal voter registration and voter participation rate, by participating in a data sharing project called the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. The system helps participating states identify eligible voters who are not already on the rolls or voters whose information has changed.
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“California has not performed up to the level I think Californians expect,” Becker said. “But the good news is all of the necessary foundation is in place for California to make a remarkable comeback and be one of the top states in election administration.”