Donate
Independent, objective, nonpartisan research

R 216EMR

Authors

R 216EMR

Tagged with:

Publication PDFs

Database

This is the content currently stored in the post and postmeta tables.

View live version

object(Timber\Post)#3726 (44) { ["ImageClass"]=> string(12) "Timber\Image" ["PostClass"]=> string(11) "Timber\Post" ["TermClass"]=> string(11) "Timber\Term" ["object_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["custom"]=> array(5) { ["_wp_attached_file"]=> string(12) "R_216EMR.pdf" ["wpmf_size"]=> string(6) "546320" ["wpmf_filetype"]=> string(3) "pdf" ["wpmf_order"]=> string(1) "0" ["searchwp_content"]=> string(39287) "FEBRUARY 2016 Eric McGhee Daniel Krimm Putting California’s Voter Turnout in Context © 2016 Public Policy Institute of California PPIC is a public charity. It does not take or support positions on any ballot measures or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Short sections of text, not to exceed three paragraphs, may be quoted without written permission provided that full attribution is given to the source. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff, officers, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California. PPIC.ORG Putting California’s Voter Turnout in Context 3 Introduction 4 Turnout by Election Type 5 Registration versus Voting 7 California in Comparative Perspective 9 Lessons from Recent Trends 13 Possible Policy Changes 14 Conclusion 16 References 17 About the A uthors 18 Acknowledgements 18 Table of Turnout in California’s recent elections has hit record lows, prompting concern about the implica tions for the state’s democracy and encouraging many to think of ways the lack of participation might be turned around. To understand and address this challenge requires putting it in broader context. This short report identifies California’s turnout trends over time; separates them int o presidential, midterm, and primary elections; examines the separate voting steps of registration and turnout; and places all of these numbers into comparative context with other states. When seen in isolation, California has a turnout problem. Californi ans are registering at the same rates as before, but they are not following through and casting a ballot as often. This problem is mostly limited to midterm elections (both primary and fall general), though there is some evidence of a decline in presidenti al primaries as well. Fall presidential elections continue to draw voters as well today as they did 35 years ago. Thus, if we are concerned about turnout in California, midterm elections ought to be an area of special focus. But compared to other states, C alifornia also has a registration problem. The registration rate has stayed flat in California but climbed elsewhere. California’s recent adoption of automated registration could radically reduce the administrative burden of registering to vote, but what r emains will be the same motivational and logistical barriers that impede turnout among the registered. To address this turnout issue, we briefly examine two possible policy changes discussed recently: 1) the “Colorado model” of voting, and 2) more robust a nd comprehensi ve civics education in school. Both demonstrate some promise of increasing turnout, but neither will be a silver bullet. The way forward will increasingly consist of efforts to mobilize already registered voters and get them to the polls. CONTENTS SUMMARY PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 4 Introduction California’s 2014 voter turnout hit record lows in both primary and general elections. This has prompted a great deal of concern about the potential causes of this low civic participation, where it is headed, and what c an be done about it. Unlike many other states, California has been working hard to make the voting and registration process es as easy as possible. R esidents can register to vote online and submit a vote-by- mail ballot in every election . M ail ballots can even arrive slightly late —so long as they are mailed by Election Day and make it to the registrar within three days of the election. Some of the more significant changes to the registration system are yet to come. T he state is poised to allow residents as y oung as 16 to “preregister,” to help automate the process of passing registrations through the DMV, and to enable any remaining unregistered citizens to sign up and cast a ballot after the traditional registration deadline has passed . These efforts to im prove voter turnout are important, but before we proceed further it is useful to step back and get a better sense of the nature and scope of the problem. We need to unpack overall turnout decline by different types of elections , and distinguish between enduring voter apathy and apathy toward specific elections . Below we address some general questions about turnout in California that ought to be on the minds of everyone concerned about the issue: Has turnout declined in all types of elections —presidential, midterm, and primary? 1. What role does declining registration play , as compared to declining turnout among those who are 2. registered ? Are the answers to the first two questions different if we compare California to other states? 3. What are some future sol utions we might adopt to address the turnout problem? 4. The answers to these questions create a more complex and nuanced portrait of voter turnout in California, and reveal insights into the nature of low turnout in recent years . PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 5 Turnout by Election T ype When predicting turnout in a given election, the most important thing to know is whether a presidential contest is on the ballot. Presidential elections receive vastly more media attention and voter interest than even the most contentious and high -profil e contest for any other office or ballot measure. That in turn drives far more voters to the polls. At the other end of the spectrum, turnout for primary elections has tended to be weak because the options have usually been limited to candidates of the sam e party, thus sapping even a presidential primary contest of the excitement that comes from a battle of competing world views. Even in the last two primary electio ns in California, when the “top- two” system has placed candidates of all parties on the same ballot, the decisions in the primary stage have not determined the final winner and so have not received the same level of attention as a fall general election. These distinctions are useful because if turnout decline is concentrated in certain types of el ections, tepid campaigns or uninspiring candidates might be an important cause. At the very least, such a pattern would suggest there is more to the problem than mechanical demographic trends or broad dissatisfaction with government. Figure 1 shows the share of California residents who voted over the past 35 years, splitting the trend into four types of elections: fall elections with a presidential race on the ballot; fall midterm elections when there is no presidential race but the state’s executive positi ons, such as governor and attorney general, are filled; and primary elections in both types of years. FIGURE 1 Turnout decline among eligible Californians has been concentrated in midterm and primary elections SOURCE: California Secretary of State . NOTE: Graph shows turnout rate among Californians who are eligible to vote. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections Presidential primary elections Midterm primary elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 6 The graph makes clear that fall presidential contests do not fit the pattern of turnout decline. There was a modest decline up through about 1996, but in the years since, turnout i n presidential elections has actually climbed more often than it has fallen. At any rate, there is no sign here of a disengaging electorate. The same could not be said of primary elections or midterm general elections. Turnout in these races has fallen sig nificantly. In midterm general elections, it has slid from about 50 percent in 1982 to 31 percent in 2014, and in midterm primaries from 36 percent to 18 percent. Turnout in California’s gubernatorial races used to be about 10 percentage points lower than in the previous presidential race. Th at gap is now over twice as large. Presidential primaries are a more ambiguous case. For most of this period, turnout in these primaries has not fallen at all. But the 2012 presidential primary suddenly produced a new l ow (23%), raising questions about whether this drop will persist in 2016 or whether turnout will return to the higher levels of the past. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 7 Registration versus V oting The turnout trends in Figure 1 actually conflate two separate steps. Before they can vote, Californians must first confirm they are eligible by registering with their county registrar (eligibility is mostly a matter of citizenship). 1 Currently in California, registration must take place at least 15 days before the election, and whenever voters move , it is incumb ent on them to re register at their new address. Thus, potential voters must have the motivation and forethought to register before they can make any further voting decisions. And once they are registered they must still cast a ballot, whi ch requires its own motivation and set of decisions. These two steps are necessarily driven by similar factors, but they are different enough that they should be considered separately. Traditionally, changes in the registration rate are “sticky”— they occur slowly and persist over time. A relatively consistent voter wh o does not move never has to reregister, and even inactive voters are rarely removed from the registration list entirely. Turnout, by contrast, can fluctuate significantly over time as the sam e group of registered voters responds to the politics of the moment. Moreover, although voters who are registered but not voting are relatively disengaged from the current election, they have at least expressed a provisional interest in voting by making the effort to become registered. That means they might be more responsive to future efforts at mobilization. On a more practical level, addressing the problem of low voter participation requires knowing the community one needs to target. If registration amon g eligible residents is falling, the problem lies mostly with young people not signing up at rates comparable to older generations. Remedies would focus on the process of registration itself. On the other hand, if turnout is falling among the registered population, it suggests that even those who at some point considered themselves likely to vote have become disengaged from the political process. Since there is no need to register them, reaching out to these voters and convincing them to participate becomes a much larger part of the solution . Figure s 2 and 3 split the trends in Figure 1 into these two separate stages: the registratio n rate among eligible residents and the turnout rate among registered voters. In the past 35 years there has been almost no cha nge in the overall registration rate (Figure 2). It tends to be somewhat lower in midterms and primary elections, as relatively more voters leave the rolls than are added to them . There has also been a modest decline of a few percentage points since the mid- 1990s. But there is otherwise little sign of a broader trend over time. 1 In fact, for qualified noncitizens living in California, the decision to become a citizen is really a third step that must precede these other two. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 8 FIGURE 2 California’s registration rate has been flat SOURCE: California Secretary of State . NOTE: The 2008 election season had t wo primary elections —one for president in February and one for all other offices in June; the graph shows turnout only for the presidential. Turnout among the registered tells a very different story (Figure 3). This figure looks like an e xaggerated version of Figure 1: there has been no real decline in turnout for fall presidential races, but both primaries and fall general elections in midterm years have seen participation plummet. Turnout among registered voters is down almost 30 percent in these elections. 2 Presidential primaries once again offer an in -between case, with some signs of stability and some signs of decline . However, t urnout does tend to be higher in years like 2000 and 2008, when there was no incumbent on either side and California’s primary f ell early enough in the process to potentially make a difference in the outcome . 2 At least some of the decline in primary elections might reflect the lower primary turnout rate of registered independents (officially called “no party preference” voters), who have been a growing share of the electorate over time. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections Presidential primary elections Midterm primary elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 9 FIGURE 3 Turnout among registered voters in California has fallen SOURCE: California Secretary of State . NOTE: The 2008 election season had two primary elections —one for pr esident in February and one for all other offices in June; the graph shows turnout only for the presidential. In sum, California’s decline in voter turnout is hard to pin on registration. Nor does it have much to do with fall presidential races, which cont inue to engage the public as much as they did 35 years ago. The problem lies with midterm elections where no presidential contest is on the ballot, and to a certain extent with presidential primaries as well. Next we will broaden our view to see how California measures up to other states and whether these dynamics may reflect a larger trend across the country. California in Comparative P erspective California’s midterm primary and general election turnout may be falling, but is California doing any worse than other states? If turnout decline is occurring everywhere at the same rate, then California may have no relative decline at all. The opposite is also possible: if turnout or registration in other states is rising or falling, even the absence of change in California might reflect a declining or improving position in relative terms. If California’s turnout has declined at the same rate as in other places, then the explanation likely does not lie with anything about the state’s particular demography or polit ics, but rather with broader trends in American society. This would not absolve the state of responsibility to address the problem, but it would put the magnitude of the problem in the proper perspective. By contrast, if the state’s turnout has fallen even faster than in other states, it would suggest something specific to California. It would also suggest both the possibility of more control over solutions and a greater sense of urgency about finding them. Figure 4 below shows how eligible turnout deviates from the trend in the rest of the country. Positive numbers mark higher turnout for California, and negative numbers lower turnout. Most of the conclusions are unchanged when seen in comparative perspective: turnout is still declining in relative terms fo r midterm primary and general 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections Presidential primary elections Midterm primary elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 10 elections, and there are still signs of concern from the 2012 presidential primary.3 Each of these trends is less pronounced because turnout elsewhere has also been declining. Interestingly, turnout in California’s primary elections has been higher than the rest of the country throughout this time period, including for the record low turnout of 2014. 4 However, the story for fall presidential elections does change when seen from this comparative perspective. Relative to other s tates, turnout in California’s presidential elections has been slipping since at least 2000, and the state’s turnout in those years has been below the average for all other states since about 2004. In short, California’s fall presidential turnout has remained steady, but in other states it has risen, increasingly leaving California behind. 5 FIGURE 4 Turnout relative to other states has fallen in midterm and presidential elections SOURCE: United States Elections Project (eligible voters and turnout, 1980 –2014); National Conference of State Legislatures (primary ballot measure outcomes for determining turnout for some states in some years); Congressional Quarterly Voting and Elections Collection (primary election outcomes); various secretaries of state (other primary election outcomes data). NOTE: Graph shows California’s turnout among the eligible population as a deviation from the average turnout in all other states. Positive values show higher turnout than the nation as a whole, while negative numbe rs show lower turnout. Because primary turnout was not available for all states in all years, a standardized comparison case was created with a multilevel model with no fixed effects and random effects for years and states. The year random effects established the reference point for each year, purged of the idiosyncrasies of the states that happened to be included in the data in that year. The 2008 election season had t wo primary elections —one for president in Febru ary and one for all other offices in June; the graph shows turnout only for the presidential. 3 California’s rank has slipped some, reflecting the fact that a small number of states have been doing quite well with p rimary turnout in recent years. See McGhee (2014 ) for details. 4 At least some of this difference likely reflects the fact that, until recently, California was one of the only states to regularly feature initiatives on the primary election ballot. However, the legislature recently banned citizen initiatives from the primary ballot, so they will only appear on the fall ba llot in the future. 5 Eligibility in Figure 3 comes from the United States Election Project, which works to develop nationally comparable measures of eligibility that incorporate multiple eligibility factors, including citizenship and status as a convicted felon. -10%-8% -6% -4% -2% 0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% 14% 16% 18% 20% 22% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections Presidential primary elections Midterm primary elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 11 What about the distinction between registration and voting? Relative to other states, is California falling behind more in one than the other? Figure 4 splits th e data into registration and turnout as before, but now presents those trends in relative terms. 6 These data are not available for primaries, so the analysis here focuses only on presidential and midterm general elections. Figure 2 showed that the absolute registration rate for California has been flat over the past 35 years ; Figure 5 shows that the registration rate relative to other states has steadily fallen. Given the stickiness of registration, it is not surprising that this decline has been fairly mea sured and steady, and that the pattern has been virtually identical in presidential and midterm elections. FIGURE 5 Compared to other states, California’s registration rate has fallen in both presidential and midterm elections SOURCE: U.S. Census Current Population Survey . NOTE: Graphs show California’s deviation from the average registration rate of all other states. 6 Because official registration records from other states are often poorly kept and difficult to compare, this analysis uses the Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census, a survey that is only administered in fall elections with a federal contest on the ballot. Missing data on the registration and turnout questions in this su rvey have been imputed using the procedure described in the t echnical appendix of the PPIC report Expanding California’s Electorate: Will Recent Reforms Increase Voter Turnout? (McGhee 2014 ). -8% -6% -4% -2%0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 12 Figure 6 shows California’s relative turnout among those who are registered. H ere the story is more familiar: turnout in president ial elections has been mostly flat compared to the rest of the country, while turnout in midterms has been erratic but generally trending down. In both types of elections , with only a few exceptions, California has beaten the rest of the country at getting v oters to the polls once they are registered. FIGURE 6 Compared to other states, California’s turnout has been higher and has fallen more slowly and erratically SOURCE: U.S. Census Current Population Survey . NOTE: Graphs show California’s deviation from the average registered voter turnout of all other states. -8% -6% -4% -2%0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 13 Lessons from Recent Trends This examination of trends leaves us with a more nuanced picture of turnout in California than we had before :  California’s regist ration rate has been mostly flat over the past 35 years , but it probably should have been climbing. Other states have improved their registration rates on average over the same period. 7 This relative decline in California’s registration is dragging down Ca lifornia’s relative turnout across both midterm and presidential elections.  Midterm general elections —when California elects its governors and other statewide officers—present the most serious cause for concern. Turnout is falling in both primaries and ge neral elections, and in both absolute and relative terms.  California’s turnout in presidential primaries has been falling, but inconsistently enough that it does not yet merit serious concern. In fact, if turnout in the June 2016 presidential primary manag es to be about 35 percent of eligible residents or higher, it would indicate no persistent decline at all. 7 California’s relative decline may in part reflect the fact that California is no longer a battleground state in presidential elections, in a time when presidential contests overall have become more competitive. In fact, other large non -battleground states with similar demographics to California’s such as Illinois, New York, and Texas have also seen relative tur nout and registration declines. By contrast, Florida, which has similar demographics but is a battleground, has seen its relative registration and turnout increase. However, even if presidential competition is the cause, it is still worth considering what Californi a might do to make up some of the difference. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 14 Possible Policy Changes When comparing the two steps of the voting process —registration and turnout —it is perhaps easiest to make the case for targ eting registration as the focus of state policy. A higher registration rate would likely produce a modest improve ment in turnout among those eligible to vote , and the natural stickiness of registration would give such changes greater staying power. R ecent policy changes in California will make registration so simple as to virtually eliminate it as a separate barrier. AB 1461, which was signed by Governor Brown in 2015, initiated a system that will soon begin to register many more California citizens when they apply for a new driver’s license, renew an old one, or change their address with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Though the change will not happen overnight, this new system will eventually draw many more citizens onto the voter rolls. 8 Thus, future policy will need to focus more on getting out the vote among those who are already registered. Turnout among the registered has fallen sharply in primary and fall midterm elections, even if at least some of that decline is common to the rest of the country. Moreover, the decision whether or not to register is about more than the immediate procedural headaches of doing so. In part it reflects one’s engagement with the political world, and so has a lot in common with the dec ision about voting itself. Many unregistered citizens have never been asked to participate nor given a reason to think it matters, and many see politics as lacking relevance to their own lives. Thus, once automated registration is in place , there will stil l be a need to encourage these new voters to cast a ballot. What, then, can be done to encourage more people to cast a ballot? Two possibilities have been receiving attention lately: adopting the “Colorado model” of voting; and beefing up civic education in schools. The “Colorado Model” of V oting In its 2015 session, the California legislature considered SB 450, which would adopt a system of voting similar to the one currently used in Colorado. For counties that cho ose to participate, the traditional precinct system would be replaced with a smaller number of larger “vote centers.” Unlike polling places , each vote center would be able to handle all county residents, not just those who live nearby . Moreover, all voter s would be sent a vote -by- mail ballot by default, which they could return by mail , drop off at any vote center in the county, or deposit in one of a number of ballot drop- off locations. If they chose not to vote by mail or if they lost or spoiled their vote by mail ballot , they could have their ballot printed out at any of the vote centers in the county , which would be open for early voting up to 10 days before E lection Day. Finally, the system would also plug into the state’s new “conditional” registration system, 9 meaning unregistered citizens could come to a vote center and both register and vote at the same time. Research suggests v ote centers and vote- by-mail elections are much cheaper to run, which is attractive in a time when funding for elections ha s been on the decline (Gronke and Miller 2012 ; Folz 2014; Hall et al. 2012). However, the effects on turnout are more mixed. Though vote centers do not seem to produce a decline in turnout, 8 AB 1461 is a somewhat less aggressive version of a syst em recently adopted in Oregon. Oregon will automatically add eligible voters from its DMV database to the voter rolls, and then send follow -up letters al lowing those new voters to opt out of the system. The California system will require DMV customers to attest to their eligibility to vote and give them an “opt out” question before their records are sent to the Secretary of State. 9 The “conditional” registration system will allow California citizens to both register and vote simultaneously at any time between the traditional close of registration deadline 15 days before the election up to and including Election Day itself. However, while many states that have similar systems allow registration and voting at a polling place on Election Day, the California system will require users to go t o a county registrar’s office. Allowing vote centers to serve as county registrar offices for the purposes of conditional registration could greatly expand the system’s reach. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 15 early experiments have not consistently produced an increase, either (Folz 2014; Hall et al. 2012 ; Stein and Vonnahme 2008) . Likewise, the effect of vote -by -mail elections has generally been to increase turnout , though at least one study actually found a decline, and it is not clear whether the increase in turnout persists over time ( Gronke and Miller 2012; Kousser and Mullin 2007; Southwell and Burchett 2000; Gerber et al. 2013 ; Leighley and Nagler 2014 ). One complicated issue with vote centers concerns how many to make available for a given population. Since the goal is generally to open fewer vote centers than precincts, it is always possible that too few will be opened and voters will have trouble fi nding a convenient one nearby. Research on the effect of distance on voting ha s found turnout declines up to 5 percent for distances up to 10 miles from the precinct ( Dyck and Gimpel 2005 ). But since vote centers are more flexible than precincts —they will accept all potential voters no matter where in the county they reside and will be open for more than just Election Day —voters may more often find themselves in closer proximity to a voting location at a moment when they have some free time to cast a vote. Civic E ducation Another possible way to increase turnout is to focus on the low participation rates of young people ( Romero 2015) and do a better job of acculturating them into the habit of voting . There has been some work on this front already. The re cent California Task Force on K –12 Civic Learning has offered a lengthy list of recommendations rooted in six “proven practices” ( Revitalizing K–12 Civic Learning In California: A Blueprint For Action, Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools ). The six practices cover both classroom activities (instruction, discussion) and participatory exercises (service learning, simulations, civic extracurriculars, school governance). Research suggests why these practices work and what will help them work better . Young people often distrust politicians and political institutions and feel that their participation in elections does not matter (Bowler and Donovan 2013; Blais et al. 2004) . At the same time, they are surprisingly receptive to volunteering and activism ( Andolina et al. 2003; Chareka and Sears 2006 ). At its best, c ivic education connects the latter to the former by imparting a broader understanding of institutional levers of power and connecting them to c urrent events and local concerns (Bennett 2007 ; Hart et al. 2007) . The specific effects on voter turnout can be notable. One study found that high school extracurricular participation in political organizations increased subsequent adult turnout from 21 to 38 percent (Andolina et al. 2003 ). Another found that one year of coursework in American Governme nt or Civics increased the probability of voting as an adult by 3 to 6 percent , with a more pronounced 7 to 11 percent effect among students whose parents did not make a practice of discussing politics with them ( Bachner 2010). A study of students participating in the Kids Voting USA program found modest but significant correlations after an agenda of interactive classroom instruction and discussion with parents ( Kiousis and McDevitt 2008). Ideally, civic education that combines more of these practices in an integrated program should see larger effects on civic engagement in general, and voting in particular. Preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds may be pa rticularly helpful here, as more high school students will have the opportunity to register to vote at the same time that they are taking a civics course. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 16 Conclusion These potential reforms are not the only means of possibly increasing turnout. But as Ca lifornia’s voter registration process gets easier , we move further into a world where the main barrier is the cost of and motivation for voting. Indeed, much of the registration problem we currently have may actually reflect these deeper issues. The Color ado model is about lowering the costs of voting for voters , and there may be other steps along the same lines that we can take. But it is impossible to eliminate all the costs , so improving turnout will require an ongoing process of outreach and mobilization. Civic educatio n is one step in that process. But aggressive outreach should become the new normal if we seek to increase participation. For this reason , it will be important to identify which Californians are not registering or voting, and why they are not. This will help us better understand who to mobilize and what policy options might be best suited to improve the situation. Something about California’s midterm elections is f ailing to energize the electorate, but there is more to learn about which portions of the electorate have become especially disengaged. In short, our portrait of turnout in California is marked by both broad and detailed brush strokes. Our registration ra te lags other states in a way that affects many types of elections and suggests a more general disengagement. But turnout decline is also concentrated in specific types of elections, suggesting disengagement with the politics of the moment. Addressing the turnout problem will require acknowledging that both types of disengagement exist and attempting to alleviate them. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 17 REFERENCES Andolina, Molly W., Krista Jenkins, Cliff Zukin, and Scott Keeter. 2003. " Habits from Home, Lessons from School: Influences on Youth Civic Engagement. " PS: Political Science & Politics 36 (02): 275 -80. Bachner, Jennifer. 2010. " From Classroom to Voting Booth: The Effect of High School Civic Education on Turnout. " American Political Science Association Annual Meeting Baldassare, Mark. 2015. " Automatic Registration Is No Panacea for Low Turnout ." The Sacramento Bee , May 4. Barreto, Matt A., Gary M. Segura, and Nathan D. Woods. 2004. " The Mobilizing Effect of Majority–Minority Districts on Latino Turnout. " Ameri can Political Science Review 98 (01): 65 -75. Bennett, W. Lance. 2007. " Civic Learning in Changing Democracies: Challenges for Citizenship and Civic Education. " In Young Citizens and New Media: Learning for Democratic Participation, ed. P. Dahlgren (Routledge ). Blais, André, Elisabeth Gidengil, and Neil Nevitte. 2004. " Where Does Turnout Decline Come From? " European Journal of Political Research 43 (2): 221 -36. Bowler, Shaun, and Todd Donovan. 2013. " Civic Duty and T urnout in the UK Referendum on AV: What S hapes the Duty to Vote?" Electo ral Studies 32 (2): 265 -73. Chareka, Ottilia and Alan Sears. 2006. " Civic Duty: Young People's Conceptions of V oting as a Means of Political Participation. " Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l'éducation: 521 -40. Folz, David H. 2014. " Vote Centers as a Strategy to Control Election Administration Costs. " SAGE Open 4 (1) : 1-10. Gerber, Alan S., Gregor y A. Huber, and Seth J. Hill. 2013. " Identifying the Effect of All-Mail Elections on Turnout: Staggered Reform in the Evergreen State. " Political Science Research and Methods 1 (1): 91- 116. Gronke, Paul , and Peter Miller. 2012. " Voting by Mail and Turnout in Oregon: Revisiting Southwell and Burchett. " American Politics Research 40 (6): 976 -97. Hall, Steven R., Joseph Losco, and Raymond Sche ele. 2012. "Convenient Turnout: A Case Study of the Indiana Vote Center Pilot Program. " International Journal of Business and Social Science 3 (8) : 304 -312 . Hart, D aniel, Thomas M. Donnelly, James Youniss, and Robert Atkins. 2007. " High School Community Service as a P redictor of Adult V oting and Volunteering. " American Educational Research Journal 44 (1 ): 197 -219. Kiousis, Spiro, and Michael McDevitt. 2008. " Agenda Setting in Civic Development: Effects of Curricula and Issue Importance on Youth Voter Turnout. " Communication Research 35 (4): 481 -502. Kousser, Thad, and Megan Mullin. 2007. " Does Voting by Mail Increase Participation? Using Matching to Analyze a Natural Experiment. " Political Analysis 15 (4): 428 -45. Leighl ey, Jan E., and Jonathan Nagler. 2014. Who Votes Now? Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States. Princeton University Press. McGhee, Eric. 2014. " Expanding California's Electorate: Will Recent Reforms Increase Voter Turnout?" Public Policy Institute of California. Romero, Mindy. 2015. " California's New Political Realities: The Impact of the Youth Vote on Our Electoral Landscape. " In CCEP Policy Brief. University of California, Davis, Center for Regional Change. Southwell, Priscilla L., and Justin Burchett. 2000. " The Effect of All-mail Elections on Voter Turnout. " American Politics Research 28 (1): 72- 9. Stein, Robert M., and Greg Vonnahme. 2008. " Engaging the Unengaged Voter: Vote Centers and Voter Turnout. " The Journal of Politics 70 (2): 487 -97. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 18 ABOUT THE AUTHOR S Eric McGhee is a research fellow at PPIC, where he focuses on elections, legislative behavior, political reform, and surveys. His research on elections and electoral reform has appeared in numerous academic journals, and his work has been profiled on National Publ ic Radio, the Washington Post , the New York Times , and The Economist. He is an occasional contributor to the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog on politics. Before joining PPIC, he was assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon and s erved as a Congressional Fellow through the American Political Science Association. He holds a PhD in political science from the Univers ity of California, Berkeley . Daniel Krimm is a research associate at the Public Policy Institute of California, where he works on topics related to state governance, such as redistricting, election systems, political geography, state -local relations, and realignment. Before joining PPIC, he was a global policy fellow at IP Justice, addressing issues in information and communication technology and internet governance. He holds an MPP degree from the University of Southern California and a BA from Princeton University in the history and philosophy of science . ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The authors would like to acknowledge the helpful a nd insightful comments of Mindy Romero and Kim Alexander. Inside PPIC, the report has benefited greatly from the comments of Mark Baldassare, Dean Bonner, Abby Cook, Hans Johnson, and Lynette Ubois. PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA Board of Directors Donna Lucas, Chair Chief Executive Officer Lucas Public Affairs Mark Baldassare President and CEO Public Policy Institute of California Ruben Barrales President and CEO GROW Elect María Blanco Executive Director Undocumented Student Legal Services Center University of California Office of the President Louise Henry Bryson Chair Emerita, Board of Trustees J. Paul Getty Trust A. Marisa Chun Partner McDermott Will & Emery LL P Phil Isenberg Vice C hair Delta Stewardship Council Mas Masumoto Author and Farmer Steven A. Merksamer Senior Partner Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Gross & Leoni, LLP Gerald L. Parsky Chairman Aurora Capital Group Kim Polese Chairman ClearStreet, Inc. Gaddi H. Vasquez Senior Vice President, Government Affairs Edison International Southern California Edison The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. Public Policy Institute of California 500 Washington Street, Suite 600 San Francisco, CA 94111 T: 415.291.4400 F: 415.291.4401 PPIC.ORG P PIC Sacramento Center Senator Office Building 1121 L Street, Suite 801 Sacramento, CA 95814 T: 916.440.1120 F: 916.440.1121" } ["___content":protected]=> string(102) "

R 216EMR

" ["_permalink":protected]=> string(87) "https://www.ppic.org/publication/putting-californias-voter-turnout-in-context/r_216emr/" ["_next":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_prev":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_css_class":protected]=> NULL ["id"]=> int(8989) ["ID"]=> int(8989) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "1" ["post_content"]=> string(0) "" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2017-05-20 02:42:45" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(4509) ["post_status"]=> string(7) "inherit" ["post_title"]=> string(8) "R 216EMR" ["post_type"]=> string(10) "attachment" ["slug"]=> string(8) "r_216emr" ["__type":protected]=> NULL ["_wp_attached_file"]=> string(12) "R_216EMR.pdf" ["wpmf_size"]=> string(6) "546320" ["wpmf_filetype"]=> string(3) "pdf" ["wpmf_order"]=> string(1) "0" ["searchwp_content"]=> string(39287) "FEBRUARY 2016 Eric McGhee Daniel Krimm Putting California’s Voter Turnout in Context © 2016 Public Policy Institute of California PPIC is a public charity. It does not take or support positions on any ballot measures or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Short sections of text, not to exceed three paragraphs, may be quoted without written permission provided that full attribution is given to the source. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff, officers, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California. PPIC.ORG Putting California’s Voter Turnout in Context 3 Introduction 4 Turnout by Election Type 5 Registration versus Voting 7 California in Comparative Perspective 9 Lessons from Recent Trends 13 Possible Policy Changes 14 Conclusion 16 References 17 About the A uthors 18 Acknowledgements 18 Table of Turnout in California’s recent elections has hit record lows, prompting concern about the implica tions for the state’s democracy and encouraging many to think of ways the lack of participation might be turned around. To understand and address this challenge requires putting it in broader context. This short report identifies California’s turnout trends over time; separates them int o presidential, midterm, and primary elections; examines the separate voting steps of registration and turnout; and places all of these numbers into comparative context with other states. When seen in isolation, California has a turnout problem. Californi ans are registering at the same rates as before, but they are not following through and casting a ballot as often. This problem is mostly limited to midterm elections (both primary and fall general), though there is some evidence of a decline in presidenti al primaries as well. Fall presidential elections continue to draw voters as well today as they did 35 years ago. Thus, if we are concerned about turnout in California, midterm elections ought to be an area of special focus. But compared to other states, C alifornia also has a registration problem. The registration rate has stayed flat in California but climbed elsewhere. California’s recent adoption of automated registration could radically reduce the administrative burden of registering to vote, but what r emains will be the same motivational and logistical barriers that impede turnout among the registered. To address this turnout issue, we briefly examine two possible policy changes discussed recently: 1) the “Colorado model” of voting, and 2) more robust a nd comprehensi ve civics education in school. Both demonstrate some promise of increasing turnout, but neither will be a silver bullet. The way forward will increasingly consist of efforts to mobilize already registered voters and get them to the polls. CONTENTS SUMMARY PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 4 Introduction California’s 2014 voter turnout hit record lows in both primary and general elections. This has prompted a great deal of concern about the potential causes of this low civic participation, where it is headed, and what c an be done about it. Unlike many other states, California has been working hard to make the voting and registration process es as easy as possible. R esidents can register to vote online and submit a vote-by- mail ballot in every election . M ail ballots can even arrive slightly late —so long as they are mailed by Election Day and make it to the registrar within three days of the election. Some of the more significant changes to the registration system are yet to come. T he state is poised to allow residents as y oung as 16 to “preregister,” to help automate the process of passing registrations through the DMV, and to enable any remaining unregistered citizens to sign up and cast a ballot after the traditional registration deadline has passed . These efforts to im prove voter turnout are important, but before we proceed further it is useful to step back and get a better sense of the nature and scope of the problem. We need to unpack overall turnout decline by different types of elections , and distinguish between enduring voter apathy and apathy toward specific elections . Below we address some general questions about turnout in California that ought to be on the minds of everyone concerned about the issue: Has turnout declined in all types of elections —presidential, midterm, and primary? 1. What role does declining registration play , as compared to declining turnout among those who are 2. registered ? Are the answers to the first two questions different if we compare California to other states? 3. What are some future sol utions we might adopt to address the turnout problem? 4. The answers to these questions create a more complex and nuanced portrait of voter turnout in California, and reveal insights into the nature of low turnout in recent years . PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 5 Turnout by Election T ype When predicting turnout in a given election, the most important thing to know is whether a presidential contest is on the ballot. Presidential elections receive vastly more media attention and voter interest than even the most contentious and high -profil e contest for any other office or ballot measure. That in turn drives far more voters to the polls. At the other end of the spectrum, turnout for primary elections has tended to be weak because the options have usually been limited to candidates of the sam e party, thus sapping even a presidential primary contest of the excitement that comes from a battle of competing world views. Even in the last two primary electio ns in California, when the “top- two” system has placed candidates of all parties on the same ballot, the decisions in the primary stage have not determined the final winner and so have not received the same level of attention as a fall general election. These distinctions are useful because if turnout decline is concentrated in certain types of el ections, tepid campaigns or uninspiring candidates might be an important cause. At the very least, such a pattern would suggest there is more to the problem than mechanical demographic trends or broad dissatisfaction with government. Figure 1 shows the share of California residents who voted over the past 35 years, splitting the trend into four types of elections: fall elections with a presidential race on the ballot; fall midterm elections when there is no presidential race but the state’s executive positi ons, such as governor and attorney general, are filled; and primary elections in both types of years. FIGURE 1 Turnout decline among eligible Californians has been concentrated in midterm and primary elections SOURCE: California Secretary of State . NOTE: Graph shows turnout rate among Californians who are eligible to vote. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections Presidential primary elections Midterm primary elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 6 The graph makes clear that fall presidential contests do not fit the pattern of turnout decline. There was a modest decline up through about 1996, but in the years since, turnout i n presidential elections has actually climbed more often than it has fallen. At any rate, there is no sign here of a disengaging electorate. The same could not be said of primary elections or midterm general elections. Turnout in these races has fallen sig nificantly. In midterm general elections, it has slid from about 50 percent in 1982 to 31 percent in 2014, and in midterm primaries from 36 percent to 18 percent. Turnout in California’s gubernatorial races used to be about 10 percentage points lower than in the previous presidential race. Th at gap is now over twice as large. Presidential primaries are a more ambiguous case. For most of this period, turnout in these primaries has not fallen at all. But the 2012 presidential primary suddenly produced a new l ow (23%), raising questions about whether this drop will persist in 2016 or whether turnout will return to the higher levels of the past. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 7 Registration versus V oting The turnout trends in Figure 1 actually conflate two separate steps. Before they can vote, Californians must first confirm they are eligible by registering with their county registrar (eligibility is mostly a matter of citizenship). 1 Currently in California, registration must take place at least 15 days before the election, and whenever voters move , it is incumb ent on them to re register at their new address. Thus, potential voters must have the motivation and forethought to register before they can make any further voting decisions. And once they are registered they must still cast a ballot, whi ch requires its own motivation and set of decisions. These two steps are necessarily driven by similar factors, but they are different enough that they should be considered separately. Traditionally, changes in the registration rate are “sticky”— they occur slowly and persist over time. A relatively consistent voter wh o does not move never has to reregister, and even inactive voters are rarely removed from the registration list entirely. Turnout, by contrast, can fluctuate significantly over time as the sam e group of registered voters responds to the politics of the moment. Moreover, although voters who are registered but not voting are relatively disengaged from the current election, they have at least expressed a provisional interest in voting by making the effort to become registered. That means they might be more responsive to future efforts at mobilization. On a more practical level, addressing the problem of low voter participation requires knowing the community one needs to target. If registration amon g eligible residents is falling, the problem lies mostly with young people not signing up at rates comparable to older generations. Remedies would focus on the process of registration itself. On the other hand, if turnout is falling among the registered population, it suggests that even those who at some point considered themselves likely to vote have become disengaged from the political process. Since there is no need to register them, reaching out to these voters and convincing them to participate becomes a much larger part of the solution . Figure s 2 and 3 split the trends in Figure 1 into these two separate stages: the registratio n rate among eligible residents and the turnout rate among registered voters. In the past 35 years there has been almost no cha nge in the overall registration rate (Figure 2). It tends to be somewhat lower in midterms and primary elections, as relatively more voters leave the rolls than are added to them . There has also been a modest decline of a few percentage points since the mid- 1990s. But there is otherwise little sign of a broader trend over time. 1 In fact, for qualified noncitizens living in California, the decision to become a citizen is really a third step that must precede these other two. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 8 FIGURE 2 California’s registration rate has been flat SOURCE: California Secretary of State . NOTE: The 2008 election season had t wo primary elections —one for president in February and one for all other offices in June; the graph shows turnout only for the presidential. Turnout among the registered tells a very different story (Figure 3). This figure looks like an e xaggerated version of Figure 1: there has been no real decline in turnout for fall presidential races, but both primaries and fall general elections in midterm years have seen participation plummet. Turnout among registered voters is down almost 30 percent in these elections. 2 Presidential primaries once again offer an in -between case, with some signs of stability and some signs of decline . However, t urnout does tend to be higher in years like 2000 and 2008, when there was no incumbent on either side and California’s primary f ell early enough in the process to potentially make a difference in the outcome . 2 At least some of the decline in primary elections might reflect the lower primary turnout rate of registered independents (officially called “no party preference” voters), who have been a growing share of the electorate over time. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections Presidential primary elections Midterm primary elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 9 FIGURE 3 Turnout among registered voters in California has fallen SOURCE: California Secretary of State . NOTE: The 2008 election season had two primary elections —one for pr esident in February and one for all other offices in June; the graph shows turnout only for the presidential. In sum, California’s decline in voter turnout is hard to pin on registration. Nor does it have much to do with fall presidential races, which cont inue to engage the public as much as they did 35 years ago. The problem lies with midterm elections where no presidential contest is on the ballot, and to a certain extent with presidential primaries as well. Next we will broaden our view to see how California measures up to other states and whether these dynamics may reflect a larger trend across the country. California in Comparative P erspective California’s midterm primary and general election turnout may be falling, but is California doing any worse than other states? If turnout decline is occurring everywhere at the same rate, then California may have no relative decline at all. The opposite is also possible: if turnout or registration in other states is rising or falling, even the absence of change in California might reflect a declining or improving position in relative terms. If California’s turnout has declined at the same rate as in other places, then the explanation likely does not lie with anything about the state’s particular demography or polit ics, but rather with broader trends in American society. This would not absolve the state of responsibility to address the problem, but it would put the magnitude of the problem in the proper perspective. By contrast, if the state’s turnout has fallen even faster than in other states, it would suggest something specific to California. It would also suggest both the possibility of more control over solutions and a greater sense of urgency about finding them. Figure 4 below shows how eligible turnout deviates from the trend in the rest of the country. Positive numbers mark higher turnout for California, and negative numbers lower turnout. Most of the conclusions are unchanged when seen in comparative perspective: turnout is still declining in relative terms fo r midterm primary and general 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections Presidential primary elections Midterm primary elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 10 elections, and there are still signs of concern from the 2012 presidential primary.3 Each of these trends is less pronounced because turnout elsewhere has also been declining. Interestingly, turnout in California’s primary elections has been higher than the rest of the country throughout this time period, including for the record low turnout of 2014. 4 However, the story for fall presidential elections does change when seen from this comparative perspective. Relative to other s tates, turnout in California’s presidential elections has been slipping since at least 2000, and the state’s turnout in those years has been below the average for all other states since about 2004. In short, California’s fall presidential turnout has remained steady, but in other states it has risen, increasingly leaving California behind. 5 FIGURE 4 Turnout relative to other states has fallen in midterm and presidential elections SOURCE: United States Elections Project (eligible voters and turnout, 1980 –2014); National Conference of State Legislatures (primary ballot measure outcomes for determining turnout for some states in some years); Congressional Quarterly Voting and Elections Collection (primary election outcomes); various secretaries of state (other primary election outcomes data). NOTE: Graph shows California’s turnout among the eligible population as a deviation from the average turnout in all other states. Positive values show higher turnout than the nation as a whole, while negative numbe rs show lower turnout. Because primary turnout was not available for all states in all years, a standardized comparison case was created with a multilevel model with no fixed effects and random effects for years and states. The year random effects established the reference point for each year, purged of the idiosyncrasies of the states that happened to be included in the data in that year. The 2008 election season had t wo primary elections —one for president in Febru ary and one for all other offices in June; the graph shows turnout only for the presidential. 3 California’s rank has slipped some, reflecting the fact that a small number of states have been doing quite well with p rimary turnout in recent years. See McGhee (2014 ) for details. 4 At least some of this difference likely reflects the fact that, until recently, California was one of the only states to regularly feature initiatives on the primary election ballot. However, the legislature recently banned citizen initiatives from the primary ballot, so they will only appear on the fall ba llot in the future. 5 Eligibility in Figure 3 comes from the United States Election Project, which works to develop nationally comparable measures of eligibility that incorporate multiple eligibility factors, including citizenship and status as a convicted felon. -10%-8% -6% -4% -2% 0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% 14% 16% 18% 20% 22% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections Presidential primary elections Midterm primary elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 11 What about the distinction between registration and voting? Relative to other states, is California falling behind more in one than the other? Figure 4 splits th e data into registration and turnout as before, but now presents those trends in relative terms. 6 These data are not available for primaries, so the analysis here focuses only on presidential and midterm general elections. Figure 2 showed that the absolute registration rate for California has been flat over the past 35 years ; Figure 5 shows that the registration rate relative to other states has steadily fallen. Given the stickiness of registration, it is not surprising that this decline has been fairly mea sured and steady, and that the pattern has been virtually identical in presidential and midterm elections. FIGURE 5 Compared to other states, California’s registration rate has fallen in both presidential and midterm elections SOURCE: U.S. Census Current Population Survey . NOTE: Graphs show California’s deviation from the average registration rate of all other states. 6 Because official registration records from other states are often poorly kept and difficult to compare, this analysis uses the Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census, a survey that is only administered in fall elections with a federal contest on the ballot. Missing data on the registration and turnout questions in this su rvey have been imputed using the procedure described in the t echnical appendix of the PPIC report Expanding California’s Electorate: Will Recent Reforms Increase Voter Turnout? (McGhee 2014 ). -8% -6% -4% -2%0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 12 Figure 6 shows California’s relative turnout among those who are registered. H ere the story is more familiar: turnout in president ial elections has been mostly flat compared to the rest of the country, while turnout in midterms has been erratic but generally trending down. In both types of elections , with only a few exceptions, California has beaten the rest of the country at getting v oters to the polls once they are registered. FIGURE 6 Compared to other states, California’s turnout has been higher and has fallen more slowly and erratically SOURCE: U.S. Census Current Population Survey . NOTE: Graphs show California’s deviation from the average registered voter turnout of all other states. -8% -6% -4% -2%0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% Presidential general elections Midterm general elections PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 13 Lessons from Recent Trends This examination of trends leaves us with a more nuanced picture of turnout in California than we had before :  California’s regist ration rate has been mostly flat over the past 35 years , but it probably should have been climbing. Other states have improved their registration rates on average over the same period. 7 This relative decline in California’s registration is dragging down Ca lifornia’s relative turnout across both midterm and presidential elections.  Midterm general elections —when California elects its governors and other statewide officers—present the most serious cause for concern. Turnout is falling in both primaries and ge neral elections, and in both absolute and relative terms.  California’s turnout in presidential primaries has been falling, but inconsistently enough that it does not yet merit serious concern. In fact, if turnout in the June 2016 presidential primary manag es to be about 35 percent of eligible residents or higher, it would indicate no persistent decline at all. 7 California’s relative decline may in part reflect the fact that California is no longer a battleground state in presidential elections, in a time when presidential contests overall have become more competitive. In fact, other large non -battleground states with similar demographics to California’s such as Illinois, New York, and Texas have also seen relative tur nout and registration declines. By contrast, Florida, which has similar demographics but is a battleground, has seen its relative registration and turnout increase. However, even if presidential competition is the cause, it is still worth considering what Californi a might do to make up some of the difference. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 14 Possible Policy Changes When comparing the two steps of the voting process —registration and turnout —it is perhaps easiest to make the case for targ eting registration as the focus of state policy. A higher registration rate would likely produce a modest improve ment in turnout among those eligible to vote , and the natural stickiness of registration would give such changes greater staying power. R ecent policy changes in California will make registration so simple as to virtually eliminate it as a separate barrier. AB 1461, which was signed by Governor Brown in 2015, initiated a system that will soon begin to register many more California citizens when they apply for a new driver’s license, renew an old one, or change their address with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Though the change will not happen overnight, this new system will eventually draw many more citizens onto the voter rolls. 8 Thus, future policy will need to focus more on getting out the vote among those who are already registered. Turnout among the registered has fallen sharply in primary and fall midterm elections, even if at least some of that decline is common to the rest of the country. Moreover, the decision whether or not to register is about more than the immediate procedural headaches of doing so. In part it reflects one’s engagement with the political world, and so has a lot in common with the dec ision about voting itself. Many unregistered citizens have never been asked to participate nor given a reason to think it matters, and many see politics as lacking relevance to their own lives. Thus, once automated registration is in place , there will stil l be a need to encourage these new voters to cast a ballot. What, then, can be done to encourage more people to cast a ballot? Two possibilities have been receiving attention lately: adopting the “Colorado model” of voting; and beefing up civic education in schools. The “Colorado Model” of V oting In its 2015 session, the California legislature considered SB 450, which would adopt a system of voting similar to the one currently used in Colorado. For counties that cho ose to participate, the traditional precinct system would be replaced with a smaller number of larger “vote centers.” Unlike polling places , each vote center would be able to handle all county residents, not just those who live nearby . Moreover, all voter s would be sent a vote -by- mail ballot by default, which they could return by mail , drop off at any vote center in the county, or deposit in one of a number of ballot drop- off locations. If they chose not to vote by mail or if they lost or spoiled their vote by mail ballot , they could have their ballot printed out at any of the vote centers in the county , which would be open for early voting up to 10 days before E lection Day. Finally, the system would also plug into the state’s new “conditional” registration system, 9 meaning unregistered citizens could come to a vote center and both register and vote at the same time. Research suggests v ote centers and vote- by-mail elections are much cheaper to run, which is attractive in a time when funding for elections ha s been on the decline (Gronke and Miller 2012 ; Folz 2014; Hall et al. 2012). However, the effects on turnout are more mixed. Though vote centers do not seem to produce a decline in turnout, 8 AB 1461 is a somewhat less aggressive version of a syst em recently adopted in Oregon. Oregon will automatically add eligible voters from its DMV database to the voter rolls, and then send follow -up letters al lowing those new voters to opt out of the system. The California system will require DMV customers to attest to their eligibility to vote and give them an “opt out” question before their records are sent to the Secretary of State. 9 The “conditional” registration system will allow California citizens to both register and vote simultaneously at any time between the traditional close of registration deadline 15 days before the election up to and including Election Day itself. However, while many states that have similar systems allow registration and voting at a polling place on Election Day, the California system will require users to go t o a county registrar’s office. Allowing vote centers to serve as county registrar offices for the purposes of conditional registration could greatly expand the system’s reach. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 15 early experiments have not consistently produced an increase, either (Folz 2014; Hall et al. 2012 ; Stein and Vonnahme 2008) . Likewise, the effect of vote -by -mail elections has generally been to increase turnout , though at least one study actually found a decline, and it is not clear whether the increase in turnout persists over time ( Gronke and Miller 2012; Kousser and Mullin 2007; Southwell and Burchett 2000; Gerber et al. 2013 ; Leighley and Nagler 2014 ). One complicated issue with vote centers concerns how many to make available for a given population. Since the goal is generally to open fewer vote centers than precincts, it is always possible that too few will be opened and voters will have trouble fi nding a convenient one nearby. Research on the effect of distance on voting ha s found turnout declines up to 5 percent for distances up to 10 miles from the precinct ( Dyck and Gimpel 2005 ). But since vote centers are more flexible than precincts —they will accept all potential voters no matter where in the county they reside and will be open for more than just Election Day —voters may more often find themselves in closer proximity to a voting location at a moment when they have some free time to cast a vote. Civic E ducation Another possible way to increase turnout is to focus on the low participation rates of young people ( Romero 2015) and do a better job of acculturating them into the habit of voting . There has been some work on this front already. The re cent California Task Force on K –12 Civic Learning has offered a lengthy list of recommendations rooted in six “proven practices” ( Revitalizing K–12 Civic Learning In California: A Blueprint For Action, Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools ). The six practices cover both classroom activities (instruction, discussion) and participatory exercises (service learning, simulations, civic extracurriculars, school governance). Research suggests why these practices work and what will help them work better . Young people often distrust politicians and political institutions and feel that their participation in elections does not matter (Bowler and Donovan 2013; Blais et al. 2004) . At the same time, they are surprisingly receptive to volunteering and activism ( Andolina et al. 2003; Chareka and Sears 2006 ). At its best, c ivic education connects the latter to the former by imparting a broader understanding of institutional levers of power and connecting them to c urrent events and local concerns (Bennett 2007 ; Hart et al. 2007) . The specific effects on voter turnout can be notable. One study found that high school extracurricular participation in political organizations increased subsequent adult turnout from 21 to 38 percent (Andolina et al. 2003 ). Another found that one year of coursework in American Governme nt or Civics increased the probability of voting as an adult by 3 to 6 percent , with a more pronounced 7 to 11 percent effect among students whose parents did not make a practice of discussing politics with them ( Bachner 2010). A study of students participating in the Kids Voting USA program found modest but significant correlations after an agenda of interactive classroom instruction and discussion with parents ( Kiousis and McDevitt 2008). Ideally, civic education that combines more of these practices in an integrated program should see larger effects on civic engagement in general, and voting in particular. Preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds may be pa rticularly helpful here, as more high school students will have the opportunity to register to vote at the same time that they are taking a civics course. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 16 Conclusion These potential reforms are not the only means of possibly increasing turnout. But as Ca lifornia’s voter registration process gets easier , we move further into a world where the main barrier is the cost of and motivation for voting. Indeed, much of the registration problem we currently have may actually reflect these deeper issues. The Color ado model is about lowering the costs of voting for voters , and there may be other steps along the same lines that we can take. But it is impossible to eliminate all the costs , so improving turnout will require an ongoing process of outreach and mobilization. Civic educatio n is one step in that process. But aggressive outreach should become the new normal if we seek to increase participation. For this reason , it will be important to identify which Californians are not registering or voting, and why they are not. This will help us better understand who to mobilize and what policy options might be best suited to improve the situation. Something about California’s midterm elections is f ailing to energize the electorate, but there is more to learn about which portions of the electorate have become especially disengaged. In short, our portrait of turnout in California is marked by both broad and detailed brush strokes. Our registration ra te lags other states in a way that affects many types of elections and suggests a more general disengagement. But turnout decline is also concentrated in specific types of elections, suggesting disengagement with the politics of the moment. Addressing the turnout problem will require acknowledging that both types of disengagement exist and attempting to alleviate them. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 17 REFERENCES Andolina, Molly W., Krista Jenkins, Cliff Zukin, and Scott Keeter. 2003. " Habits from Home, Lessons from School: Influences on Youth Civic Engagement. " PS: Political Science & Politics 36 (02): 275 -80. Bachner, Jennifer. 2010. " From Classroom to Voting Booth: The Effect of High School Civic Education on Turnout. " American Political Science Association Annual Meeting Baldassare, Mark. 2015. " Automatic Registration Is No Panacea for Low Turnout ." The Sacramento Bee , May 4. Barreto, Matt A., Gary M. Segura, and Nathan D. Woods. 2004. " The Mobilizing Effect of Majority–Minority Districts on Latino Turnout. " Ameri can Political Science Review 98 (01): 65 -75. Bennett, W. Lance. 2007. " Civic Learning in Changing Democracies: Challenges for Citizenship and Civic Education. " In Young Citizens and New Media: Learning for Democratic Participation, ed. P. Dahlgren (Routledge ). Blais, André, Elisabeth Gidengil, and Neil Nevitte. 2004. " Where Does Turnout Decline Come From? " European Journal of Political Research 43 (2): 221 -36. Bowler, Shaun, and Todd Donovan. 2013. " Civic Duty and T urnout in the UK Referendum on AV: What S hapes the Duty to Vote?" Electo ral Studies 32 (2): 265 -73. Chareka, Ottilia and Alan Sears. 2006. " Civic Duty: Young People's Conceptions of V oting as a Means of Political Participation. " Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l'éducation: 521 -40. Folz, David H. 2014. " Vote Centers as a Strategy to Control Election Administration Costs. " SAGE Open 4 (1) : 1-10. Gerber, Alan S., Gregor y A. Huber, and Seth J. Hill. 2013. " Identifying the Effect of All-Mail Elections on Turnout: Staggered Reform in the Evergreen State. " Political Science Research and Methods 1 (1): 91- 116. Gronke, Paul , and Peter Miller. 2012. " Voting by Mail and Turnout in Oregon: Revisiting Southwell and Burchett. " American Politics Research 40 (6): 976 -97. Hall, Steven R., Joseph Losco, and Raymond Sche ele. 2012. "Convenient Turnout: A Case Study of the Indiana Vote Center Pilot Program. " International Journal of Business and Social Science 3 (8) : 304 -312 . Hart, D aniel, Thomas M. Donnelly, James Youniss, and Robert Atkins. 2007. " High School Community Service as a P redictor of Adult V oting and Volunteering. " American Educational Research Journal 44 (1 ): 197 -219. Kiousis, Spiro, and Michael McDevitt. 2008. " Agenda Setting in Civic Development: Effects of Curricula and Issue Importance on Youth Voter Turnout. " Communication Research 35 (4): 481 -502. Kousser, Thad, and Megan Mullin. 2007. " Does Voting by Mail Increase Participation? Using Matching to Analyze a Natural Experiment. " Political Analysis 15 (4): 428 -45. Leighl ey, Jan E., and Jonathan Nagler. 2014. Who Votes Now? Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States. Princeton University Press. McGhee, Eric. 2014. " Expanding California's Electorate: Will Recent Reforms Increase Voter Turnout?" Public Policy Institute of California. Romero, Mindy. 2015. " California's New Political Realities: The Impact of the Youth Vote on Our Electoral Landscape. " In CCEP Policy Brief. University of California, Davis, Center for Regional Change. Southwell, Priscilla L., and Justin Burchett. 2000. " The Effect of All-mail Elections on Voter Turnout. " American Politics Research 28 (1): 72- 9. Stein, Robert M., and Greg Vonnahme. 2008. " Engaging the Unengaged Voter: Vote Centers and Voter Turnout. " The Journal of Politics 70 (2): 487 -97. PPIC.ORG Putting C alifornia’s Voter Turnout in Context 18 ABOUT THE AUTHOR S Eric McGhee is a research fellow at PPIC, where he focuses on elections, legislative behavior, political reform, and surveys. His research on elections and electoral reform has appeared in numerous academic journals, and his work has been profiled on National Publ ic Radio, the Washington Post , the New York Times , and The Economist. He is an occasional contributor to the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog on politics. Before joining PPIC, he was assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon and s erved as a Congressional Fellow through the American Political Science Association. He holds a PhD in political science from the Univers ity of California, Berkeley . Daniel Krimm is a research associate at the Public Policy Institute of California, where he works on topics related to state governance, such as redistricting, election systems, political geography, state -local relations, and realignment. Before joining PPIC, he was a global policy fellow at IP Justice, addressing issues in information and communication technology and internet governance. He holds an MPP degree from the University of Southern California and a BA from Princeton University in the history and philosophy of science . ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The authors would like to acknowledge the helpful a nd insightful comments of Mindy Romero and Kim Alexander. Inside PPIC, the report has benefited greatly from the comments of Mark Baldassare, Dean Bonner, Abby Cook, Hans Johnson, and Lynette Ubois. PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA Board of Directors Donna Lucas, Chair Chief Executive Officer Lucas Public Affairs Mark Baldassare President and CEO Public Policy Institute of California Ruben Barrales President and CEO GROW Elect María Blanco Executive Director Undocumented Student Legal Services Center University of California Office of the President Louise Henry Bryson Chair Emerita, Board of Trustees J. Paul Getty Trust A. Marisa Chun Partner McDermott Will & Emery LL P Phil Isenberg Vice C hair Delta Stewardship Council Mas Masumoto Author and Farmer Steven A. Merksamer Senior Partner Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Gross & Leoni, LLP Gerald L. Parsky Chairman Aurora Capital Group Kim Polese Chairman ClearStreet, Inc. Gaddi H. Vasquez Senior Vice President, Government Affairs Edison International Southern California Edison The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. Public Policy Institute of California 500 Washington Street, Suite 600 San Francisco, CA 94111 T: 415.291.4400 F: 415.291.4401 PPIC.ORG P PIC Sacramento Center Senator Office Building 1121 L Street, Suite 801 Sacramento, CA 95814 T: 916.440.1120 F: 916.440.1121" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2017-05-20 09:42:45" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(8) "r_216emr" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2017-05-20 02:42:45" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2017-05-20 09:42:45" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["guid"]=> string(50) "http://148.62.4.17/wp-content/uploads/R_216EMR.pdf" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_mime_type"]=> string(15) "application/pdf" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" ["status"]=> string(7) "inherit" ["attachment_authors"]=> bool(false) }