California’s working on a handful of measures to increase voter turnout, but most of them won’t pay off until the next election cycle.
Gov. Jerry Brown last month signed the New Motor Voter law, which, when fully implemented, will automatically register eligible voters whenever they complete a transaction at the DMV.
But that measure isn’t likely to have too much effect in 2016, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said during an interview this week, after he delivered remarks at a citizenship ceremony in San Diego.
The first thing the state must do is put in place a statewide voter registration database, rather than each county having its own database, which is expected to happen sometime around June, near the state’s primary election.
Then DMVs across the state will need technical upgrades to get each would-be voter into the system. The state’s already provided funding for that, Padilla said, and the process should start just after June.
If that happens quickly, in June or July, there could be a few months in which every eligible voter who goes through the DMV will be registered to vote, and delays will just result in fewer and fewer people seeing the benefit.
Many people have knocked the law by saying that more registered voters won’t necessarily translate to more people actually voting. “Indeed, the most likely net effect is that turnout as a percentage of registered voters will still decline as voter rolls are expanded with millions of alienated Californians,” Dan Walters wrote last month.
Padilla said he is confident the bill will eventually increase voter turnout.
For one, every cycle people try to register only to learn they’ve missed the deadline, and can’t vote in whatever race inspired them to look into it in the first place. In due time, those people will be registered automatically.
But more importantly, eligible voters who aren’t registered don’t get sample ballots or voter information guides from the state or county that tell them what’s on the ballot and where their polling place is.
“Also, by and large campaigns and candidates don’t talk to voters that aren’t registered,” he said. “Once they’re registered, you can bet campaigns will start reaching out to them as well.”
Padilla and San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who wrote the New Motor Voter bill, just returned from a trip to Colorado, where they monitored the elections administration there to find other ways to increase turnout.
There, every voter gets a mail ballot sent to them without having to request it. But they also have “vote centers” that are open one or two weeks ahead of the election for people to return their ballots. And voters have the flexibility to go to any center in the county, not just the one closest to them. The state also has drop boxes in various locations that don’t require voters to pay for postage.
“So, lessons from them are, building up vote-by-mail, more in-person voting options and providing geographic flexibility for voters around the county,” Padilla said. “Their cost of administering elections is down 30 percent, and more importantly voting rates have gone up 20 percent. I think that’s a win-win.”
San Diego won approval for a pilot program to try full vote-by-mail voting for special elections, but there hasn’t been a special election since that happened to see how it works.
San Mateo, meanwhile, is trying out its own program, and Padilla said early evidence is that cost is down and voting is up.
— Andrew Keatts
Rail vs. Roads
Last week, state Sen. Pat Bates, whose district is mostly based in Orange County but includes some North County territory, argued in favor of ditching the high-speed rail project and using the funds to fix the state’s crumbling roads in a Union-Tribune op-ed.
Taxes are too high as it is, Bates writes, which makes Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to make drivers pay a $65 vehicle fee and raise gas taxes to fund road repairs “an insult.” (Side note: Bates, a Sacramento politician, derisively uses the phrase “Sacramento politicians” three times in her op-ed.)
Bates isn’t alone: Also last week, two Republican lawmakers got the ball rolling on what they hope will be a ballot measure allowing voters to weigh in on whether to redirect high-speed rail money to roads.
This week, CityLab published a rebuttal to Bates arguing that her framing misses the point:
It’s common for high-speed rail skeptics to see roads and rails as a zero-sum game in which one mode must perish for the other to survive. In truth, California needs both transportation options if it stands any hope of improving life for residents who endure awful air pollution and even worse traffic on a daily basis. By perpetuating car reliance, Bates isn’t solving a problem but rather putting it off for another representative to handle in the future.
Budget vs. Economy
Things are looking good for California’s bank account.
That’s the gist of a report this week from the Legislative Analyst’s Office that revealed “California’s state budget is better prepared for an economic downturn than it has been at any point in decades.” The report predicts the state will end the 2015-2016 fiscal year “with $7.9 billion in reserves, a $3.3 billion increase over the budget act’s assumptions.”
Speaker Toni Atkins used the report to lay some stakes in the ground for 2016:
“As the Assembly looks ahead to crafting the next year’s budget, we will continue to build the Rainy Day Fund, set aside funds for state costs associated with increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and provide meaningful new investments in developmental disability services, education — from preschool to higher ed — infrastructure, and other critical needs.”
Republicans said the report shows that some of the taxes the governor is advocating for aren’t necessary.
But just because the state is flush with cash doesn’t mean everything is going well economically. Dan Walters offers some realtalk:
A few sectors, principally the Bay Area’s technology industry, are doing very well, but recovery from the Great Recession elsewhere has been spotty.
Our job-growth rate is far from the nation’s highest, our unemployment rate is 10th highest, and our underemployment rate is third highest. We also are No. 1 in poverty with nearly a quarter of Californians impoverished.
Mark Kersey vs. Jerry Brown
As the San Diego City Council voted on a water rate increase, Councilman Mark Kersey said that residents upset about the hike should redirect their anger. He proceeded to rip into Gov. Jerry Brown for mandating water conservation across the state:
“We’ve got a lot of San Diegans, many in my district and many in my colleagues’ districts, coming in and saying, ‘Why are you punishing us for conserving?’ You know who’s punishing you for conserving? Jerry Brown. And you know why? Because he handed down state mandates that said that everybody has to conserve. And conservation is fine, except that in San Diego we’re actually doing OK. The County Water Authority said earlier this year that we’ve got 99 percent of the supply we need for the foreseeable future. Also, we had a rainy season ending Sept. 30, we got an inch-and-a-half more rain than our average. I don’t want to say the drought is over, but it is clearly far less severe in San Diego than it is in the rest of the state. And yet we are subject to the same cutbacks that everyone was. Now, we got those negotiated down a little bit due to investments we made in desal and investments we’re going to make in Pure Water, but not enough. Not enough to account for the amount of conservation that San Diegans have done.
And what you may have gleaned and maybe what you didn’t glean out of all the discussion today is that on your bill you’ve got your fixed cost, you’ve got your variable cost. Well, your variable cost, which is how much, the volume of water you consume, that has fixed cost built into it. Because if we didn’t do that, there would be absolutely no incentive to conserve because the price of water would be so cheap nobody would actually conserve. And so, the state actually forces us to do that as well.
And so, I don’t usually go on rants like this but I’m really, really annoyed about this situation we find ourselves in today because do you know who’s going to be getting the letters? Who is getting the letters and the calls from angry constituents about this issue? It’s not Jerry Brown. It’s me. It’s my colleagues up here — people who supported Jerry Brown, incidentally. I did not. And it’s for stuff like this, because honestly it’s exactly like what he did with redevelopment. He takes a blunt instrument and says the whole state is going to do what he wants and he doesn’t actually parse it down and say, ‘You know what San Diego? You guys are doing things OK and we’ll let you get by a little easier or a lot bit easier than everybody else.’ It’s the way he operates, it’s why I don’t support him, it’s why I haven’t supported him and it’s why I’m actually really angry that he’s put us in this position today.”
Now, because Kersey’s microphone was attached to the dais, he couldn’t do an all-out mic drop. Instead, he gave us something new: a disgusted mic slap. Behold:
Golden State News
• State officials say Blue Shield hasn’t delivered on a promise it made to donate millions to charity in exchange for approval of an acquisition. (L.A. Times)
• Attorney General Kamala Harris has overhauled her Senate campaign after folks started questioning her heavy spending. And Steve Greenhut breaks down a federal case challenging the AG’s use of confidential information regarding charitable donations. (The Hill, Union-Tribune) (Disclosure: My husband works for the attorney general’s office.)
• Gov. Jerry Brown said this week California will continue accepting Syrian refugees, but stressed the importance of vetting them. Many of the Syrians who have entered California in the last few years ended up in San Diego. Meanwhile, San Diego Rep. Scott Peters voted with the House Republican majority for a bill that would limit Syrian refugees’ ability to enter the U.S. (Sacramento Bee)
• The California Fair Political Practices Commission is pushing to force lobbyists to disclose more details about how they spend money. (Sacramento Bee)
• The California Public Employees’ Retirement System voted this week to lower its expected investment returns, “a move that will require taxpayers to pay billions of dollars more than expected over the next decades,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Amanda Rhoades contributed to this report.