Progress Report on the Future of California Elections

150 150 Catherine Hazelton

This piece was originally published by the James Irvine Foundation and was re-posted with their permission.

Sunny San Diego provided a beautiful backdrop last month for the summer meeting of the California Association of County Clerks and Elections Officials (CACEO), at which members of the Irvine-sponsored Future of California Elections (FoCE) project presented their work to date. The group, comprised of county registrars, civil rights leaders and advocates for effective government, has been collaborating since late 2011 to improve the effectiveness of California elections and increase voter participation. Together FoCE participants established several goals they seek to accomplish in 2012, and the conference provided an opportunity to check in mid-course on their progress.

The results of FoCE participants’ hard work is already quite notable and indicates the exciting potential of this group. For example, based on focus groups FoCE participants conducted with voters and additional research and analysis, FoCE recommended 10 changes to the state voter guide. The Secretary of State welcomed all 10 recommendations and expects to adopt them for the November 2012 guide. FoCE members have also contributed to implementation of the state’s new online voter registration system, resulting in the state’s three major public assistance programs (CalWORKS, CalFresh and Medi-Cal) and two dozen colleges and universities – and counting— agreeing to integrate voter registration into their online applications and websites. More details about the group’s accomplishments to date and plans for the remainder of 2012 are listed below.

One of the highlights of the CACEO conference was hearing FoCE participants describe this unusual partnership. During a panel presentation, Cathy Darling Allen, incoming CACEO President and Clerk/Registrar of Shasta County, light-heartedly shared her initial trepidation of working with FoCE members from the American Civil Liberties Union, Verified Voting, Common Cause and the California Voter Foundation: “For a registrar, these are a bunch of scary women!” Everyone on the panel noted similar initial concerns about working with past adversaries, and expressed pride that just nine months later, they are all working together as close colleagues, advancing shared goals.

Future of California Elections Progress Report

As noted above, FoCE prioritized a number of key goals for its work in 2012. Each goal is listed below with a description of work FoCE participants have undertaken in the first half of the year and expect to complete by the end of 2012.

Promote effective implementation of online voter registration (OVR) by helping colleges, universities and state agencies integrate it into other services they provide online

Work to date:

a. Building technological tools government agencies can use to host OVR
b. Conducting outreach to dozens of colleges and universities to encourage participation
c. Coordinating with the Secretary of State’s office to implement public outreach strategies
d. Supporting the Secretary of State’s effort to integrate OVR into public assistance websites

Looking ahead:

a. Complete development of OVR applications that deliver complete and accurate registration information directly to county election officials
b. Provide technological tools and technical assistance to colleges, universities and state agencies that want to provide OVR
c. Consider opportunities to expand OVR to additional websites, such as municipalities, libraries, etc.

Improve statewide voters’ guide – both before November election and long-term

Work to date:

a. Testing usability/readability of existing guide with focus groups, identifying areas for improvement
b. Coordinating with the Secretary of State on recommendations to improve the guide’s clarity and usability as well as availability to voters in a variety of languages and accessible formats

Looking ahead:

a. Coordinating with the Secretary of State to improve online version of guide, including alternate formats/languages and voter-specific lookup tools
b. Identifying possible changes to state policies and practices to improve future guides

Build an evidence base for revising California’s system of procurement, testing and certification of voting technology 

Work to date:

a. Identifying impact of California policies and practices on county-level technology decisions 
b. Researching voting technology policies and practices nationwide 

Looking ahead:

a. Using research to identify best practices for voting technology decision-making
b. Identifying and sharing with policymakers options for changes to voting technology policies and practices

Educate and engage policymakers and the public on the impact of voting technology decisions 

Work to date:

a. Begin documenting the relationship between voting technology options and voter participation

Looking ahead:

a. Conducting public education activities on potential voting technology reforms and their impact on voter participation

Election-day voter registration (NOTE: This goal was prioritized by FoCE, but as it relates to active legislation, efforts to advance it have not been coordinated or supported by the James Irvine Foundation. More information about this work is available here.)

As a Senior Program Officer for the California Democracy program, Catherine is engaged in grantmaking related to governance reform, including redistricting and elections, and public media coverage of governance issues.


Catherine Hazelton

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