Election Trends this Legislative Session

  • By Astrid

  • September 3rd, 2015

There was significant movement in election reform this legislative session. The new session included three joint election committee hearings, dozens of election bills, and countless hours of deliberation as legislators and advocates considered ways to transform how we conduct elections in California. As the first year of the session comes to a close there are some notable trends in California’s approach to election reform.

The first trend to observe is the focus on improving the voter experience. From making information easier to understand to supporting voters at the polls, several bills reflected a tendency to make obtaining information and participating in elections easier. Two bills recently signed by the Governor support voter participation on Election Day. One bill simplifies the language of the Voter Bill of Rights and another bill increases the pool of eligible bilingual poll workers. There are two other bills, which if signed into law, will establish permanent committees to act as advisory bodies to the Secretary of State concerning issues of limited English proficient voters and voters with disabilities. Another bill currently in consideration will establish a partnership between the Department of Transportation and the Office of the Secretary of State to display important election information on transit signs. These are just a few of the bills that will make it easier for voters to participate on Election Day and improve the voter experience.

The second trend to observe this session is the inspiration taken from our neighboring states to think of our future systems of election and registration. California is looking for out-of-the box ways that may streamline elections and increase participation. There is a bill which took inspiration from Oregon’s automatic voter registration, in which certain DMV transactions would trigger updates on a voter’s registration. Several other bills had components similar to Colorado’s flexible voting option elections, which includes sending all voters a ballot by mail and providing various methods of returning the ballot, including vote by mail, drop-off boxes and vote centers. While these bills are still being discussed and amended, it is safe to say that California is considering a new way of doing elections in its near future.

The final trend to observe is the in-depth deliberation to find a California way of doing elections to meet the need of our diverse electorate. California may take inspiration from other states, but its diversity calls for a unique approach. There is no single race or ethnicity that is a majority in California. California voters are multicultural, multilingual and may confront disabilities. Additionally, California policymakers must also factor the diverse geography of the state. California voters live in its mountains, farm lands, near its shores, and in urban spaces; and all must have equal access to receive and cast an independent and private ballot.

To better comprehend the California landscape, state leaders established processes to deliberate with stakeholders. Election committee Chairs, Senator Ben Allen and Assembly Member Ridley-Thomas, held a series of joint hearings  in Los Angeles and Sacramento to understand the drivers of low voter turnout, to learn about election practices in Colorado and to hear from election and community experts, as well as the public. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla also convened task forces to hear from advocates and election officials on the various policies being considered. The countless hours of thoughtful deliberation demonstrates the commitment of all the stakeholders to find an approach that serves California’s unique diversity.

As this legislative year closes and we get ready for the second year of this session, we will undoubtedly see more deliberation and analysis on how to best transform California’s elections. It is an exciting time for those watching election reform in California. The policies currently moving through the legislature will change the way Californian’s vote. We can hope for a future where voting becomes a practice as routine as going to the dentist.

The voter experience, future reform policies and reforms that meet the needs of diverse voters are all core to Future of California Elections’ mission of modernizing elections and expanding participation.

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