California is the closest thing we have to a political lab for engineering a solution for the country’s voter apathy problem. From permanent absentee voting to term limits and redistricting reform and now a top-two primary system, California has tried just about every remedy imagined to help boost voter participation in the state. The result: turn-out in the Golden State last year for both the primary and general election was the lowest it has been in recorded history. Did reform fail? Was it a failure of candidates themselves? Or is there something more that California’s lack of voter interest can tell us about why/how reforms to voting systems impact actual voting behavior? At a conference organized by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley – called California Votes 2014 – some of the smartest and most plugged-in political professionals in the state tried to diagnose the state’s lack of interest in the 2014 election. Before we get to the question of why voters didn’t turn out, it’s notable that California’s low turn-out election didn’t bring Republicans the success they found in other parts of the country last year. Democrats actually swept all seven of the Golden state’s partisan offices and picked up one seat in the House. The joke out in California is that the GOP wave of 2014 stopped at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some have attributed this to the younger and more diverse (i.e, heavily Hispanic) electorate. But, the Latino turn-out was just 15 percent – 4 points less than it was in 2012. And, young people didn’t show up either.
Instead, the answer lies in the fact that white voters in the state voted more Democratic than white voters nationally. While just 39 percent of white voters nationally supported a Democrat in 2014, 51 percent of California’s white voters supported a Democrat. And, according to Marc DiCamillo of the well-respected Field Poll, white voters who live in counties that touch the coast were even more Democratic. About 70 percent of the vote in the state comes from coastal counties and in those counties, says DiCamillo, Democrats took 56 percent of the white vote. The inland counties, meanwhile, behaved much more like the rest of the nation as just 38 percent of white voters supported a Democrat.
Republicans also can’t find much comfort in the growing ranks of the independent (or no-party-preference voters) in the state. Political Data Inc.’s Paul Mitchell noted that the state’s independent voters are “not middle of the road voters.” They are more left leaning, younger and more Latino. In 2014, California independent voters gave Democrats 61 percent of the vote. Nationally, independent voters broke overwhelmingly for Republicans – 56 percent to 44 percent.
These are the sorts of numbers that should make any Republican thinking of running statewide – either for the open Senate seat in 2016 or the governorship in 2018 – serious pause
So, then there’s the question of why voters failed to turn-out to vote, despite the fact that the state has done lots to incentivize voting. On the one hand, it’s easy enough to say that it’s simply a matter of a boring top of the ticket race that generated little light or heat. Gov. Jerry Brown was popular, his GOP opponent was virtually unknown, and voters in the state had little incentive to get out and vote.
Full Article: Changing The Way We Vote Isn’t Getting More People To Vote.