California has the largest and most diverse electorate in the nation: Riverside is the 4th largest county in California in both area and population. It’s big, rapidly growing and changing fast. Despite its size, the county doesn’t have an abundance of densely populated cities like, say, nearby Los Angeles County. Riverside has a high concentration of sprawl and is partly uninhabited desert with populated areas sprinkled along the vast highways.
One challenge to a county like this is how to administer elections. It takes unique thinking with special outreach strategies.
California Forward believes that a vibrant and responsive democracy occurs only when voters are registered, voting and engaged in the issues that matter to them.
That’s why when we see something promising and interesting going on to improve voter participation, we like to share it. And that’s what we found in Riverside County.
Good outreach strategies are crucial to good democracy practices. Our nation has had “motor voter” registration since the mid-1990s, in which people can register to vote right as they’re getting a driver’s license. Unfortunately, the “motor voter” route only goes so far and standard methods of registration aren’t exactly picking up the slack.
“Every voter’s experience is different… nothing being standardized means there are unequal protections to vote,” said Kim Alexander, President of the California Voter Foundation. “But we have taken notice – early voter registration is a great first step towards civic engagement, but it requires continual efforts in actually getting out the vote.”
Registrar Kari Verjil touted specific strategies she and her team have worked on in increasing voter turnout. The Riverside Registrar Baby commercials, played off from the E-Trade baby commercials, have made lasting impressions among voters on how easy it is to vote early. In addition, great partnerships with regional malls like Westfield, the Galleria, and the Promenade have been monumentally useful in hosting convenient locations for early voting, becoming access points to and from desert areas.
Furthermore, the Registrar’s office is currently testing out different types of voting booths in different key locations. The recent use of social media (such as Facebook, Foursquare and Yelp) has been helpful in expanding access to educational material for sample ballots. Missed votes mean misrepresentation, plain and simple. That being said, every effort to improve elections by the year is important and we praise the Riverside Registrar’s office for their work.
“It’s all about having open communication with voters”, Verjil explained. “We listen to the feedback from our poll workers and read every comment sheet.”
People need to know that the act of voting is important, accessible, and easy. Citizens are looking for options on how and when to vote when they are ready to do so. Particularly in places of sprawl like Riverside County, forms of access and a responsive Registrar’s office become all the more crucial come election season.
Improving elections may not be easy, but it is possible. Counties in California such as Riverside are working to provide each voter with flexibility regarding options for casting a ballot.
Registrars across the state came together this month to strategize on outreach at the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials’ Annual (CACEO) Conference. CACEO and California Forward are a part of the Future of California Elections (FOCE), a collaboration between county election officials, civil rights advocates and good government groups. We are committed to identifying consensus-based approaches to the twin goals of increasing the effectiveness of the state’s election system while also expanding participation throughout all of California’s diverse communities.