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The Future of California Elections

Two weeks after the 2018 mid-term election, the count of "Third-Party Return of Voted Ballots," gave California Democrat candidates as much as a 10% positive swing; winning their race. 

Third-Party Return of Voted Ballots was signed into law, as a change to section 3017 of the election code, in 2016 by Gov. Jerry Brown. It removed the restriction that only family members of voters may return their ballots to county election officials no later than the close of polls on election day. In other words, mail-in ballots can be collected by unofficial political volunteers at voter's home on or before election day.

Third-Party Return of Voted Ballots has been nicknamed "Ballot Harvesting;" it is one of many new "Get Out the Vote" measures being implemented by California Democrats. These measures are permitted by changes in law that are advocated by an organization named "The Future of California Elections (FoCE)."

Introducing The Future of California Elections (FoCE) Organization

The FoCE, started in 2011, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, nonpartisan network of election stakeholders that includes election officials, reform advocates, and civil rights and civic engagement groups from across the state. It was created to democratize the voting system; i.e., voting should reflect the demographics of the state. The FoCE seeks to impact pre-2018 mid-term voter issues and statistics in three ways:

First, increase the the percentage of eligible citizens registered to vote --  at the time it was about 75% overall. The number of 18 - 34 year olds registered was much lower, about 58%.

Second, eliminate the disparities of likely voters by race and age -- Whites made up 42% of California’s adult population, but were 59% of the state's likely voters. In contrast, Latinos made up 34% of the state’s adult population but only 21% of the likely voters. The shares of Asian American (11%) and African American (6%) likely voters were roughly proportionate to their shares of the state’s adult population. The number of 18 - 34 year olds likely voting was about 18%,

Finally, FoCE seeks to reduce the confusion concerning the voting process and barriers to voting at traditional polling places, such as handicap access and transportation issues.

FoCE Program Objectives

After surveying and collaborating with partners and the community, FoCE determined the best strategy was to divide the effort into three programs groupings:

(1) Expand the number of initiatives providing access to voting information and registering the under-represented to vote;
(2) Improve the voting experience by providing access to voter information through languages and multiple formats, enhance online election experience, and support people with disabilities; and,
(3) Modernizing election administration with improved economics of elections, automation of voting process, and multi-lingual support.

Programs to Improve Voter Registration:

First, there are initiatives to clean-up the misunderstanding and confusion created by previous existing voting information, including how and where to register to vote and the voting options during elections. The information needed to be given in plain language in a wide variety of languages and formats, both online and in print. Also, election officials needed access to the data required to maintain accuracy of the voter file and register eligible voters.

The program is employing a couple of projects to improve the registration of young voters. For college age voters, they partnered with the California Students Vote Project sponsored by the Offices of the California Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor  to offer more and better online voter registration opportunities and utilize best practices for on-the-ground voter registration drives. For high school aged citizens, implement and disseminate best practices on the preregistration of 16/17-year-olds.

Finally, the researched showed the public was ill- or misinformed about existing laws, in particular: the California’s New Motor Voter Law, the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), and Election Day registration. Additionally, they found that voters with a criminal conviction and voters under conservatorship didn't realize they were fully re-enfranchised, pursuant to AB 2466 and SB 589. 

Programs to Improve Voting Experience:

FoCE is working on programs to improve the access and design of voting information by presenting information in plain language and providing information in a full range of formats, including in print and online. The objective is to enable voters to, privately and independently, cast an informed and successful ballot, regardless of English proficiency or disability. Some the changes are being implemented as part of VoteCal improvements.

Long-term, voter enthusiasm will be expanded by engaging young voters in local elections through civic education and commitment to sustained civic participation.

Finally, a key area is reducing voter confusion about the vote-by-mail process through public education and re-design of the vote-by-mail envelopes.

Modernizing Election Administration:

The big headache is administering the expanding vote-by-mail process. Again, the major improvement is re-design of vote-by-mail envelopes, and FoCE is sharing best practices.

Local counties are drowning. With all these changes prescribed in state and federal laws and process improvements, local counties need technical assistance to meet their obligations. Especially requirements such as the availability and accessibility of facsimile ballots in languages other than English (AB 918), the implementation new language determinations (Elections Code Section 14201), and through participation on Language Accessibility Advisory Committees.

FoCE is leading a statewide implementation network, Voter’s Choice California, to support counties and communities implementing the Voter’s Choice Act (SB 450) and capturing best practices for expanded 2020 implementation, and encouraging local participation in the election planning process.

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