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In 2014, California solidified its reputation as the nation’s slacker state with an embarrassingly low voter turnout: Only 25 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the June primary, and 42 percent in the November general election. Factor in eligible voters not registered to vote and the numbers are even bleaker: Less than a third of folks eligible to vote in November 2014 actually did.
Since then, the state Legislature’s passed no fewer than 16 bills aimed at boosting voter registration and turnout, including several bills from San Diego’s delegation.
• Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s AB 1461, signed into law in October 2015, automatically registers eligible voters when they apply for, or renew, their driver’s license or state ID.
• Sen. Ben Hueso’s SB 415, also signed into law last year, seeks to address low turnout in special elections by requiring cities to consolidate off-cycle elections with statewide elections.
• Signed into law this year, Gonzalez’s AB 1921 expands the list of who can drop off someone else’s mail ballot at the registrar of voters — previously it was limited to a close family member (e.g., parent, spouse, child) or someone who resided with the voter.
• Also signed into law this year was AB 2466, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill that clears up confusion over whether people on probation or locked up in county jail can vote (they can). Only state prison inmates, or people under parole supervision, are barred from voting.
• A bill by Gonzalez, introduced earlier this year, would have given 16- and 17-year olds the right to vote in school board elections, but it failed in committee.
So, California’s got all these new voting-focused laws making easier to register and easier to vote. The big question is: What needs to happen to boost actual voter participation?
Wednesday evening, Weber, who chairs the Assembly’s Elections and Redistricting Committee and whose district includes communities with historically low levels of voter turnout, held an informational hearing in San Diego to try to answer that question. Gonzalez joined her.
“California’s setting the gold standard compared with other states” in terms of passing laws aimed at improving voter participation, said James Schwab, chief of legislative affairs for the Secretary of State’s office. But, he added, “California consistently has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the U.S.”
A lot of what was discussed at the hearing is obvious: Voting is a learned behavior. And voting begets voter engagement: campaign outreach efforts, polling and mailers target likely voters, while folks who rarely or never vote get trapped in a “vicious cycle” of being ignored, said UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser.
Kousser talked about a research study he’d conducted with UCSD professor Seth Hill. Working with California Common Cause, they sent non-partisan letters to 150,000 of the roughly 4 million Californians who vote in general elections but skip primaries — a group often ignored by campaigns, Kousser said.
They found that sending one letter increased turnout by 5.4 percent, which Kousser considers significant.
“Direct outreach does have an effect,” he said. “Invitations do matter.”
That raised the question of whose responsibility it is to expand get-out-the-vote efforts. Christopher Rice-Wilson, associate director of Alliance San Diego, talked about his organization’s effort in 2014 to run ads in trolleys and buses with the message “Vote for San Diego” and the election date. The Metropolitan Transit System refused to run the ads, saying they only accepted ads for commercial services.
Rice-Wilson pointed to the ads for Mexican elections that run on English-language radio stations in San Diego. “But we never hear PSAs on English radio talking about our election,” he said.
Weber told attendees she appreciated the input, but closed with a reminder that voting is a two-way street.
“I get frustrated because our community’s ignored,” she said. “Why? Because we don’t show up. Keep in mind there’s a whole population who would like you not to vote.”
— Kelly Davis
Dems Have Supermajority in Sight
Trump might help California Republicans lose their one trump card – their ability to block Dems from gaining a supermajority in the Legislature.
Right now, Republicans “have is enough seats to block Democrats from a two-thirds majority—meaning that Democrats can’t raise taxes or pass certain kinds of bills without some bipartisan support,” writes CalMatters.
But Democrats believe they can capitalize on dislike for Donald Trump at the top of the ticket and make the crucial gains that would enable a supermajority.
The L.A. Times’ John Myers, however, doesn’t think all that much will change if the Dems get a supermajority: “In truth, it’s probably more bragging rights than brawn.”
Data guru Paul Mitchell has some good breakdowns on the votes that have been returned so far.
Golden State News
• A Barrio Logan activist is angry with state Sen. Ben Hueso for using the Chicano Park tragedy to campaign for Measure A. (CityBeat)
• Last weekend the Los Angeles Times revealed that the Pentagon was trying to force California National Guard soldiers who’d deployed to Iraq to repay enlistment bonuses they were given in error. The Pentagon reversed itself after the story unleashed a furor. The Times also talked with one soldier who details the toll the repayments have taken on him and his family.
• This op-ed argues that many of the state and local measures on your ballot are part of the legacy of California’s Proposition 13, which made it harder for legislators to raise taxes. (Wall Street Journal)
• Supporters of legalized marijuana hope that legalization efforts in several states, including California, will push the federal government to reconsider its ban and pressure Mexico and Latin America to do the same. (New York Times)
• The California Democratic Party and California Republican Party have been throwing shade at each other on Twitter this week, and it’s pretty entertaining.