By Ed Coghlan.
There is no silver bullet to solve California’s voter turnout woes.
The California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO) and UCLA sponsored a discussion on the topic Thursday night — Voting in California Reimagining What’s Possible, which was held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Utilizing technology better would help, but there’s more to the turnout issue.
“Voter alienation won’t be eliminated by using technology,” said Dave Bryan, KCBS/KCAL political reporter who moderated the panel.
UCLA Political Science Chair Jeffrey Lewis, PhD agreed.
“More people will vote in the GOP Presidential Primary, and it won’t be because of technology,” Dr. Lewis said, referring to the impact that Donald Trump has had on voter interest in the 2016 Presidential election.
There was also mention of desultory voting turnout among young people. In 2014, a year when only 42% of California registered voters actually cast ballots, the numbers among young people were much worse. Only 8.2% of Californians 18-24 voted in the election.
KNBC Political Reporter Conan Nolan drew a laugh when he mentioned that voter turnout among young people will be significantly higher in California in 2016 because a marijuana legalization initiative will be on the ballot.
Nolan’s observation made some sense. Voters need to care.
Orange County Registrar of Voters (and CACEO President) Neal Kelley pointed out that California turnout is higher when there’s something that inspires them to vote.
He mentioned California Proposition 187, a 1994 initiative which was designed to prohibit undocumented citizens from using health care, education and other services, as well as the 2008Proposition 8 which addressed same-sex marriage, as years when turnout was more brisk.
But election after election, turnout has been dropping.
KNBC’s Nolan called for more civics education in California schools which drew the applause of some of the one hundred plus people who braved a chilly night in Los Angeles to attend the two-hour event.
“Citizenship is learned,” he said. “We can do better.”
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla pointed out that Placer County is the state’s top location for young voter turnout. The Registrar told Padilla that the county office makes it a point to go to schools and promote the idea of voting.
As a result of the passage of the New Motor Voter act, it will now be easier to register to vote in California, but that’s only half the battle.
“It’s easy to get them to register but harder to get them to vote,” said Orange County’s Kelley.
Getting them vote, yes that’s the challenge.
California Senate Bill 450, which authorizes a county to conduct any election as an all-mailed ballot election if certain conditions are satisfied, including conditions related to ballot drop-off locations and ten-day polling vote centers, was getting lots of positive response.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Neal Kelley both promoted its passage.
A similar model has been implemented in Colorado and voting turnout has increased around 5%.
Two other areas spawned some interesting debate.
Should we incentivize people to vote?
Christopher Hecht, a data analytics expert, opined that maybe offering a lottery prize to those who vote might spur more interest, which met strong opposition from Matt Masterson, US Election Assistance Commissioner.
“If we have to incentivize people to vote, we have failed,” he said.
What about online voting?
While voting integrity and security issues were predictably discussed, there were different opinions.
KNBC’s Nolan said he hoped it never happened.
“Going to the ballot box reminds you that you are part of a community, he said.
UCLA’s Dr. Lewis thinks online voting will happen, but he’s not happy.
“I’m in the buggy behind the horse,” he laughed. “It’s lamentable, but it’s going to happen.
Masterson admitted that online voting presents some challenges, but he thinks we’ll eventually vote online. The concept of community has changed too.
“Facebook is a community, now,” he said.
The spirited discussion didn’t land on one solution, but the need for using technology to enhance the process was obvious.
“We need technology,” said Kelley. ”We are at a dangerous point right now and need to refresh our voting systems the right way.”
Secretary of State Padilla indicated the need to trying a number of things.
“There’s no one way to provide options,” he said.
For democracies to work, elected leaders need to be responsive and representative, and voters must be able to hold elected officials accountable for results. Democratic integrity requires an electoral process that empowers voters and gives candidates and incumbents the incentives to listen and lead.