Year in Review: Democracy and Elections

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

Polling place in San Francisco, CA. (Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes/Flickr)

Continuing with our review of the past year, we sat one-on-one with Caroline Vance Bruister, director of CAFwd’s Partnership for Public Accountability. Despite record low turnout, Bruister explains progress that’s been made this year in regard to California’s elections and improving voter information, as well as the work that still needs to be done to promote a viable, inclusive and responsive democracy.

With 2014 coming to a close, what’s your perspective on the progress that’s been made this year in regard to California’s elections?

Despite another non-Presidential election with record breaking low voter participation (in June less than 4percent of eligible 18-24 yr olds voted and in Nov 42 percent of registered voters cast ballots overall) there were some victories in the world of election administration, messaging to voters and a voter information sharing pilot. CA Fwd helped get the word out to voters that they need to sign, stamp and mail (or deliver in person on election day) vote by mail ballots. This led to a decrease in the number of late ballots received that registrars are not allowed to count! Next year CFAF supported legislation that allows ballots that are postmarked on election day but received up to 3 days after the election will ensure even more voters have their votes counted.

Why are so few Californians voting and how can we get them to the polls?

Many eligible CA voters feel disconnected from voting for many reasons. Every registration period more and more voters register as “No Party Preference” which results in political parties not targeting them to get out and vote. Registrars who are on the front lines of administering elections don’t have the budget to do really robust outreach especially to hard to reach potential voters. In CA there is a model for the nation – election administrators, good government reformers and nonprofits come together under The Future of CA Elections umbrella to improve elections administration.

Talk about progress made to increase clarity, transparency, and voter confidence in the initiative process?

2014 saw some real strides down the road of bringing greater simplicity, transparency and accountability to the initiative process and elections information.  SB 1253, which was authored by Senator Darrell Steinberg, supported by a broad coalition of business and nonprofit organizations, and signed into law by Gov Brown. The bill will give voters more useful information about initiatives so they can make informed decisions, create ballot materials that are drafted in clear and straight-forward language, and allow authors to remove initiatives in order to reduce confusion on the ballot. Ca Fwd was proud to partner with Maplight and the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund to bring consolidated voter information to Californians. By giving Voter’s Edge visitors the ability to share their voting preferences with friends, voters were engaged and empowered.

Although it’s an “off-year”, looking ahead to 2015, what are the preliminary goals and projects you have lined up to improve the ability of Californians to have their voices heard?

Ca Fwd will continue to participate and partner with members of the Future of CA Elections to improve trust and participation in our government and elections. One of the most important audiences for this work is the millennial Californians who are underrepresented in the voting public but who will inherit this great state. We will continue to develop the nexus between millennial Californians and CA Fwd’s work including in the 2015 summit.


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg