When hundreds of Californians got together to roll up their sleeves and talk about elections last week, they were joined by a looming, unwanted problem. “And that voter turnout. That’s really the elephant in the room, isn’t it?” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “November 2014. June 2014. We can and must do better. And there is no magic wand to get more and more Californians to vote.” The room was filled for the Future of California Elections (FOCE) annual conference in Sacramento. The theme of the conference was building a more inclusive democracy, taking up issues of elections funding, language and disability access, election data and other nuts-and-bolts. But, the low voter turnout and what to do about it dominated several of the discussions.
Based on the conversations, it’s clear there’s no single reason for the low numbers. Trying to narrow it down to two, Padilla shared that people surveyed say they didn’t feel their vote counted and others just didn’t know the election was coming up (“Believe it or not”); and the newly elected elections chief suggested giving Election Day more attention via social media, newspapers and CalTrans freeway signs. “That’s real cutting edge technology,” joked Padilla.
Several panelists stressed the importance of arming people with more information, not just the basics of when Election Day is but also what’s on the ballot. That included touting the launch of the Voter’s Edge tool before the last election and Pew’s Voting Information Project.
“We should so be treating voter information as though it’s actually really important that everyone gets it. Wouldn’t that be cool?”, asked Karla Zombro, field director of California Calls, a nonprofit that does get-out-the-vote drives. “But…the best voter information in the world still can’t talk. Voter guides just don’t talk.”