What motivates people to vote? Change.
Gabriela catches her breath, while the computer dials the next voter. As a phone canvasser for the Equality Alliance of San Diego County, she is calling her neighbors — most of whom do not vote regularly — and encouraging them to go to the polls and vote for Proposition 25. “Why should I vote,” asks Ms. Williams, an elderly African-American woman who lives in Gabriela’s low-income neighborhood in San Diego. “It doesn’t change anything.”
Ms. Williams remembers a time when she still believed in change. Thirty-five years ago, she and her husband came to California from Texas to escape poverty and discrimination. They turned to the state’s job training programs to help them get living-wage jobs, and to a public education system that invested in their son all the way through college. California helped them fulfill their dreams. Now, the programs that transformed their lives are in jeopardy.
“That’s exactly why your vote is so important,” replies Gabriela. “Prop 25 would make it easier for the state to pass a budget and prevent a small group of legislators from holding the programs we care about hostage.” When Ms. Williams does not answer, Gabriela implores, “You can help bring about change.” Though she is only a year out of high school, Gabriela knows that when the community mobilizes, good things can happen.
As a high school senior, Gabriela was a part of the Equality Alliance’s successful campaign to get the San Diego Unified School District to provide college and career prep curriculum (known as ‘A-G’) to all students, regardless of their background, income level, or neighborhood. The ‘A-G’ campaign was not easy. Over two years, the Equality Alliance built an education coalition and mobilized community members to attend rallies and speak out at school board meetings to get the policy adopted. It worked, and now Gabriela’s younger sister will enroll in the full sequence of college and career prep curriculum. Gabriela knows change is possible.
The Equality Alliance is now taking on its biggest challenge yet: increasing voter participation among new and infrequent voters in Ms. Williams’ neighborhood and renewing the California Dream by reforming outdated tax laws and budget policies. Many new and infrequent voters support systemic reforms such as Prop 25, which drops the vote requirement for a state budget from two-thirds down to a simple majority. If an additional 15 percent of voters in San Diego and across the state participated in elections, they could make the difference in close fights on local and statewide ballot measures.
Over the past two weeks, using a state-of-the-art predictive dialing system and employing phone and walk canvassers from the neighborhoods we’re engaging, the California Alliance’s 12 anchor organizations have talked to more than 120,000 voters around the state, including 9,000 by the Equality Alliance in San Diego. In June, the Equality Alliance ran a similar program and boosted voter turnout from 19 percent to 31 percent among new and infrequent voters. Prop 25 could be a tight race, and voters like Ms. Williams could make the difference.
“I didn’t know that you needed all those votes to pass a budget,” Ms. Williams tells Gabriela, with anger in her voice. “It doesn’t seem right, especially when my son’s job might be on the line.” Her son is a public school teacher and parent who had waited more than three months for the legislature to pass a budget. He feared the final budget might mean bigger class sizes or even more layoffs, a frightening prospect for his family.
“Your vote is important,” Gabriela reminds Ms. Williams. “Can we count on you to go to the polls on Election Day and vote for Prop 25,” she asks. “Yes,” replies Ms. Williams. “Yes, you can.”
Andrea Guerrero is Executive Director of Equality Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization building coalitions and conducting civic engagement programs to improve the condition of low-income communities of color. She has a law and policy degree and is passionate about social justice. To find out how you can volunteer to help pass Prop 25, contact a California Alliance near you.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog by our guest elections columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of California Forward or our Leadership Council.