The Future of California Elections: What’s at stake?

150 150 Doug Chapin

The Future of California Elections (FoCE) Project was formed in late 2011 to examine and address the unique challenges facing the State of California’s election system. In 2013 and beyond, FoCE will be focused on building on this foundation of consensus and success. The FoCE Conference on January 23 will serve as a way to introduce the group’s work to a larger audience, and will help begin a conversation with policymakers across the state on efforts to achieve long-term, permanent improvements in California’s system of elections.

California is home to the largest and most diverse electorate in the nation. In many ways, California has been a national leader in regard to elections, including improving the transparency and auditability of elections and providing election information such as sample ballots to all voters.

And yet, the state still has far to go; California ranks near the bottom nationwide in the percentage of eligible citizens actually registered to vote, and barriers to participation yield a voting population that does not mirror that of the state as a whole.

The two dozen FoCE members include election administrators, leaders of civil rights organizations and elections reform advocates. Together they represent the public servants charged with managing the process, groups representing a diverse spectrum of California voters and advocates dedicated to an open, transparent and well-functioning system of democracy in California.

But while many of these individuals and the organizations they represent had often encountered one another in debates about election policy on California, they had  never been brought together to seek common ground in those areas of the state’s elections. With the support of The James Irvine Foundation, FoCE convened a series of meetings in 2011 and 2012 at which these stakeholders could discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s election system and collaborate on projects and proposals to improve and protect the process for all California voters.

Building on a set of guiding principles and a shared “roadmap” to reform, FoCE and its members were able to make great strides in changing the election system in California. In just over a year, FoCE members accomplished numerous goals, including:

  • Enacting same-day registration and legislation strengthening and expanding the National Voter Registration Act;
  • Collaborating with the Secretary of State to make many changes to the state voter guide – both in print and online;
  • Assisting with implementation of online voter registration, especially integrating it into websites for dozens of colleges and universities statewide;
  • Researching ways California can modernize how it selects, tests and maintains voting technology in order to support new innovations aimed at increasing participation rates in all communities while ensuring that elections remain open, transparent and accurate.

By fostering collaboration with each other and with policymakers, FoCE members hope to:

  • Inform the development of effective elections policy and regulations that reflect the needs of voters and the practicalities of implementation;
  • Help implement new policies through effective administration and public outreach;
  • Help local elections official identify and adopt “best practices” that can improve voter participation;
  • Cultivate/maintain broad support for election reforms among the public and advocacy community.

We look forward to working with policymakers, advocates and anyone else dedicated to a more representative and well-run election system in the State of California.

Doug Chapin is the Director of the Future of California Elections


Doug Chapin

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