Unlike many states, California has been taking steps to encourage voter participation, making it easier to register to vote and to cast ballots. Nevertheless, only half of California adults can be expected to vote in this year’s presidential election, and they are likely to be very different from those who do not vote—in their demographic and economic backgrounds and in their political attitudes, according to a PPIC report, California’s Exclusive Electorate: Who Votes and Why it Matters. What more can the state do to expand?
A group of leaders and experts gathered to discuss the question at a PPIC event in Los Angeles last week. Some emphasized that there is still much to do to make the mechanics of voting easier.
California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, said the new “motor voter” law—which will register eligible adults to vote when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles unless they opt out—may have a simple but profound effect when it goes into effect. This more automated registration process will trigger a series of communications—the voter information guide and sample ballot—that will go to large number of Californians new to elections and serve as invitations to get involved.
But Padilla and other speakers also said the social component is important when engaging Californians in elections and the reason he regularly visits high schools, community colleges, and youth groups. “There’s still no substitute for a personal invitation to get involved,” he said.
Padilla’s conversation with Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, was followed by a discussion in which panelists picked up the theme of outreach to Californians who are underrepresented in the electorate.
Karla Zombro, field director for California Calls, noted that candidate campaigns focus on likely voters, perpetuating a cycle in which the same unrepresentative group of voters cast ballots year after year. Her group works to bring people into the process by consistently communicating with the Californians the campaigns don’t reach.
“What’s most important is what we do the day after they vote. Or if they don’t vote, that we still go back to them,” she said.
“We talk to people two or three times a year,” she said. “It’s neighbors talking to each other. The message matters, but the messenger matters just as much.”
Other panelists included Dean Logan, Los Angeles County registrar-recorder; Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate dean of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy; and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, California assemblymember. The moderator was Efrain Escobedo, vice president for civic engagement and public policy at the California Community Foundation.