The paltry turnout in California’s 2014 general election was the lowest on record. Less than one third of eligible voters cast a ballot. To put that into context, the number of Californians that sat out last year’s election is larger than the total population of 46 of the 50 states. While the negative effects of voter apathy aren’t always immediate, the long-term impact poses a serious potential threat to the health and legitimacy of California’s democracy.
Hoping to reverse this alarming trend, nearly 300 policymakers, researchers, election officials and voter advocates gathered in Sacramento at the third annual Future of California Elections Conference last week to discuss the challenges and innovations in the field of elections as well as explore new opportunities to expand participation and improve election administration in California.
“There is no magic wand to get more and more Californians to vote,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in his welcome remarks.
California is home to the largest and most diverse population in the nation. For elections administrators, meeting the wide array of needs and expectations of such a large ethnically, linguistically, socially diverse and highly mobile population is anything but easy.
Discussing ways to boost participation, panelists touted the importance of ensuring the election process is accessible to all voters regardless of English proficiency or disability. Others proposed expanding voting options, such as vote centers, and leveraging technology to increase the number of ways voters can cast a ballot. Regardless of voting method, a general consensus emerged that arming voters with the information needed to confidently cast an informed ballot is absolutely critical.
Even with these common sense, evidence-based solutions in hand, many may be years away from implementation. A number of reforms are tied to the state’s new voter registration database, VoteCal, which isn’t expected to launch until 2016. And as counties shoulder an increasingly larger share of the cost of conducting elections, several panelists said other efforts may be thwarted by budget problems. On top of current funding challenges, several registrars warned of a looming crisis of aging voting technology. Tackling that won’t be cheap.
Just 50 days into his administration, Padilla has inherited quite a lengthy and complex to-do list. Record low voter participation, rapidly aging voting technology, a crash-prone campaign finance disclosure system, a paper-based business filing system, and the launch of Vote-Cal to pave way for implementation of same-day voter registration, are just some of the challenges facing California’s new chief election officer during the next four years. With so much to do, CA Fwd wanted to know what he’ll tackle first, so we caught up with him at the FoCE conference and asked. Watch the video to find out what Padilla’s top three priorities are for his first term.
What do you think Padilla’s big three should be? Let us know in the comments.