Why is California voter participation so demonstrably low?

VotedSure, it’s been more than half a year since California’s last statewide election. But Californians’ remarkable failure to participate still deserves some attention today as we start focusing on the 2016 elections. In last November’s midterm Congressional election, the largest state in the nation had about the lowest voter participation of any state in the country. Hardly more than 42 percent of California’s registered voters bothered to mail-in their ballots in the conveniently provided pre-addressed envelopes, or even show up at the polls. This dismal voter participation was even worse than voter disinterest in one of the state’s other previous bad showings in 2002 when just over 50 percent of participants elected Gray Davis, the Democrat, over the GOP’s Bill Simon. In neighboring Oregon, voter participation in the November 2014 election at 69.5 percent was more than half again by percentage the level of participation of California voters in the same election.

Why is California voter participation so demonstrably low? Some pundits have offered that last year’s election was not a presidential election when voter interest would be higher and that popular Governor Jerry Brown, who was on the ballot, was destined to cruise to a big victory over feeble Republican opponent Neel Kashkari anyway, thus lessening voter interest. Democrats have a big political registration edge in the state, control every statewide elective office, and have near two-thirds control of both Houses of the state Legislature. And even with low voter turnout, the state bucked the national trend in which the GOP picked up seats in Congress, and Californians who did vote actually expanded the number of Democratic Congressional seats in Washington, D.C., from California by two (though improving GOP representation in the state Legislature just above the critical 33 percent needed to thwart tax-increases).

Yet a recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll reveals that more Californians, by 46 percent to 45 percent, think their state is headed in the the wrong direction rather than the right direction.

One reason for low voter turnout, and even for failures of the GOP to have made more gains in California in the November 2014 election, could be a failure to give voters a really good reason to turnout and feel their vote will be counted and make a difference. There are after all plenty of GOP and middle-of-the-road, independent voters in the state, as the same PPIC poll says 65 percent of CA voters are center/right, with conservatives, at 35 percent, having the plurality. An earnest young political consultant might conclude these voters just need to be contacted and given a good reason to get fired-up to change the results of many elections in the state.

One election where better voter turnout, perhaps by more focus on core GOP voters who sat on the sidelines and who didn’t get inspired enough to vote might have made a difference was the 52nd Congressional District race in conservative San Diego County. Just four years ago this seat was represented in Congress by Republican Brian Bilbray. But a Democrat won the seat in 2012 and the Republican challenger in 2014 was Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego city council who had lost a close race for Mayor of San Diego. Unfortunately, DeMaio’s campaign became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal, some key aspects of which were found to have been manufactured against him. Scott Peters, the incumbent Democrat who was thought to be vulnerable in the GOP sweep in other states, ended up winning the election with 51.6 percent, to DeMaio’s 48.4 percent.

Yet a key factor in DeMaio’s loss was low voter turnout. At 49 percent, according to the California Target Book, some observers believe that if DeMaio’s campaign could have brought out the same level of base voter participation as even the lopsided victory of fellow Republican, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, (about 56 percent), if the campaign not seen the scandal in the press, and had the campaign perhaps redirected resources to simply inspire baseline Republicans to do their public duty and come out to vote in larger numbers, the result could have been quite different, a GOP victory. According to the Target Book’s analysis, voter turnout in the 49th Congressional District where Darrell Issa cruised to a lop-sided 60 percent victory was 47 percent. One need not have a political science degree to understand that voter turnout in the 52nd race was not remarkably different given all the political spending and emphasis of Republicans to win the race; and that many GOP voters had to just pass on making a vote in the race. This observer believes that the problem was a failure to give more focus on peer-to-peer direct-voter contact with core Republicans, and this issue might have repeated itself in several of the other close Congressional races the GOP lost in California in 2014. Hard-core Republican voters were just not given a compelling or convincing reason to vote in the numbers needed to win the races, and especially in the 52nd, which was a winable seat.

Even with comparatively lower registrations in California for Republicans than Democrats, the GOP has great opportunity to win elections in the state and bring reform in the current generally apathetic low voter turn-out environment. A few victories could help Republicans grow in numbers. Voters are truly unhappy with the direction liberal Democratic leaders are taking the state, and if the GOP can better seize on ideas, candidates, strategies and tactics that really motivate conservative and middle-of-the-road voters to return their millions of empty ballot, they can win. Will they?

This article is cross-posted by the Flash Report

Court Case Pits Voting Rights of ‘Citizens’ Against ‘Residents’

From the San Diego Union-Tribute, written by Steven Greenhut:

California legislators have over the years been softening the distinction between citizens and noncitizens through a variety of measures that make it harder to deport unauthorized immigrants — and provide them with access to state programs.

While a U.S. Supreme Court case won’t affect a state’s right to pass such measures, it could force state officials to make a firm distinction between citizens and noncitizens in divvying up electoral districts. This Texas voting-rights case, known as Evenwel v. Abbott, could shift power away from poorer, immigrant-heavy urban areas to wealthier and more Republican counties — and from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Legal experts were surprised when, last month, the court decided to accept the case. Critics of that decision, including Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, argue it “could lead to a system of political segregation that only counts three-fifths of our population — and essentially ignores the rest.”

Click here to read the full column

California Assembly Democrats Seem Determined to Completely Eliminate Minor Party Candidates

VotedOn April 15, the Assembly Elections Committee passed Assembly Bill 372, a bill which seems motivated by a desire to completely rid the November ballot of minor party candidates. Even though the bill has a Republican sponsor, it received no votes from either Republican member of the committee. But it passed because four of the five Democrats on the committee voted for it.

Ever since the top-two system went into effect in 2011, there have been virtually no minor party candidates on the November ballot for Congress or partisan state office. There were only three such minor party candidates in 2012, and just three in 2014.  All six of the minor party candidates were running in races in which only one person had filed to be on the primary ballot. So, the minor party candidates noticed there was only one person on the primary ballot, and they all then filed to be write-in candidates in the primary. In all six cases, the minor person then placed second in the June primary, with write-in votes, and were allowed on the November ballot.

AB372 says if someone places first or second in the primary via write-in votes, that person still can’t be on the November ballot unless, after the primary is over, he or she pays a filing fee of 1 percent of the annual salary of the office (for U.S. House and Legislature), or 2 percent of the annual salary (for statewide office). California does not ask declared write-in candidates to pay a filing fee, because in 1972 the State Supreme Court enjoined the filing fee for write-in candidates, in Steiner v. Mihaly.

The bill’s author is Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, from the 5th assembly district in the Sierra Nevada counties. He had a Libertarian opponent on the November 2014 ballot who had qualified via write-ins. That Libertarian, 25-year-old Patrick Hogan, received 26 percent of the vote against Bigelow in November. Assemblyman Bigelow feels that since he had to pay a filing fee to get his name on the June primary ballot, therefore Hogan should have been required to pay the same fee after the primary was over.

If AB372 is signed into law, the effect will be that fewer minor party candidates file to be declared write-in candidates, in races in which only one person qualified to have his or her name on the primary ballot. And that will mean even more one-candidate races in November. One-candidate elections for important office like U.S. House and state Legislature are not good policy, especially when other candidates want to run. An analysis of the one-candidate partisan races from November 2012 reveals that, on the average, 25.3 percent of the voters who cast a ballot leave the ballot blank when there is only one candidate on the ballot. This is especially so, given that California no longer allows write-in votes in November for Congress or partisan state office.

The four Democratic members of the Assembly Elections Committee who voted for AB372, and who seem to like one-candidate elections, are Richard Gordon, Kevin Mullin, Henry Perea and the committee chairman, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. At the hearing, no one mentioned that the California Constitution itself would seem to block this bill. Article 2, sec. 5(a) says, “The candidates who are the top two vote-getters at a voter-nominated primary election for a congressional or state elective office shall, regardless of party preference, compete in the ensuing general election.”  A mere statute cannot override the state Constitution, and the state Constitution seems to say that people who place first or second have a right to appear on the November ballot, whether they come up with $1,100 after the primary or not.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

ditor of Ballot Access News

Independent voters on track to surpass state’s GOP voters

As reported by the Orange County Register:

California Republicans found a moment to celebrate last year when they broke Democrats’ two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature. But that may prove a fleeting diversion from ever-growing signs of doom.

Democrats hold every partisan statewide elected post, as well as large majorities in the Legislature and among the state’s congressional delegation.

New data shows that if current voter registration trends continue, the state’s independent voters will outnumber Republicans within four years.

Voters with no party preference now account for …

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CA Following Massachusetts Model When It Comes To Voters & Voting?

New statistics show a big jump in “no party preference” voters in California while registration in both major political parties has declined. While this change in voter registration mirrors some national trends, California may be heading boldly in the direction of another thickly populated blue state – Massachusetts.

In California the recent report from the Secretary of State shows Democrats make up 43.1 percent of the registered voters, Republicans 27.9 percent, while independent registration gained more than two full percentage points to 23.5 percent or a nearly 12 percent overall gain.

VotedMany observers predict it is only a matter of time before voters who do not declare affiliation with any political party will outnumber Republicans.

That’s the way it is in Massachusetts. In fact, unaffiliated voters outnumber both major parties combined in the Bay State. Independents make up 52.5 percent of the Massachusetts voter roll, Democrats 35.7 percent and Republicans 11.1 percent. Like Massachusetts, the majority of independent voters lean toward the Democrats assuring heavy majorities in the state house. The Massachusetts House has 125 Democrats, 35 Republicans; the Senate has 34 Democrats and 6 Republicans. No threat to supermajority there.

But the similarity ends at the executive office door. Over the past 25 years, only one Democrat has been elected governor of Massachusetts. Or to put it another way, over the past quarter of a century Republicans have won five of seven gubernatorial elections in Massachusetts. Democrat Deval Patrick just concluded his second term in office. Charles Baker, the fourth Republican governor to be elected over that time period, replaced him.

Is this a sign of hope for California Republicans that they might again capture the top statewide office? Could it be that voters want a check on a one-sided government?

No one will accuse Jerry Brown of being a Republican. However, a number of political observers have suggested Brown is the best Republicans could hope for to occupy the governor’s chair in this blue state.

The trend toward independent voters capturing a larger segment of the voting rolls will probably intensify when the already authorized Election Day registration kicks in. It is quite likely that a majority of those who register the day of the election will choose the No Party Preference label.

Further increasing the No Party Preference portion of the roll would be the effort to mandatorily register all eligible voters as proposed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez.

More than 27 percent of the eligible voters have not registered to vote in California. If a voter who had no interest in registering to vote is required to register the odds are many of those voters will choose to be classified as independents so the percentage of independent voters will grow.

However, it is not certain that the percentage of voters participating at an election will grow. In fact, the opposite is likely to happen. If voters who have no desire to register are added to the rolls automatically will many of them actually vote? The theory that participation will increase dramatically under this effort probably can be filed under the “You Can Lead a Horse to Water but You Can’t Make it Drink” philosophy.

Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

San Fran Wants to Lower Voting Age to 16

With shades of the 1960s Youth Movement, San Francisco might drop its voting age to 16 from 18. Doing so only would affect city elections, as other elections are affected by state and federal voting laws. Yet Fog City often has been a harbinger of national trends.

The reform is the idea of Supervisor John Avalos. He said, “I have seen the power of young people to be able to make changes and positive contributions to their community, and it makes sense to give them the right to vote.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Avalos and other supporters say it will encourage civic engagement among youths and instill in them lifelong voting habits at a time when turnout is low.” In addition, “Sixteen-year-olds can drive, work, pay taxes and be sentenced to life in prison.”

On March 16, two youngsters from the San Francisco Youth Commission led chants before City Hall on reducing the voting age. Said one of them, Joshua Cardenas, an 18-year-old senior at Archbishop Riordan High School, “You can drive, you can work, you can pay taxes and you can be tried in adult court, and yet you are denied the right to vote. There is a contradiction there. Certainly, they have the knowledge and competence to vote at 16.”

Opposition

“It’s a terrible idea,” John J. Pitney Jr. told the Chronicle; he’s a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “Sixteen-year-olds have a lot going for them, but civic judgment isn’t one of those things.”

“There isn’t a single age at which an adolescent becomes like an adult for purposes of thinking through things. It really depends on the issue and domain,” said Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University.

Conservatives also point out that people ages 16-17 commonly hold more liberal views than the general electorate.

Moreover, one survey indicated that, until they go to college, kids’ political views closely mirror those of their parents. According to a study by the National Social Sciences Association, 96 percent of high-school students’ political views “matched their parent/guardians’ political views. … Although teachers long for students to develop political beliefs based on research, this study concludes that most will follow in their parents/guardians’ foot steps.”

The implication is that, if the voting age were dropped, the voting clout most increased would be that of parents of the new voters; while everyone else’s clout would be reduced slightly.

1960s agitation

The 1960s arguments for dropping the voting age to 18 from 21 largely concerned the draft and the Vietnam War. The age of most draftees was 19. And large numbers of the 550,000 troops in in Vietnam at the height of the war were under 21.

As longtime Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in 1970 in hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments:

“The well-known proposition — ‘old enough to fight, old enough to vote’ — deserves special mention. To me, this part of the argument for granting the vote to 18-year-olds has great appeal. At the very least, the opportunity to vote should be granted in recognition of the risks an 18 year-old is obliged to assume when he is sent off to fight and perhaps die for his country. About 30 percent of our forces in Vietnam are under 21. Over 19,000, or almost half, of those who have died in action there were under 21. Can we really maintain that these young men did not deserve the right to vote?”

In the San Francisco situation, such an argument would not be too strong. Although America is engaged in wars in Iraq and elsewhere, there is no draft and one isn’t likely anytime soon, although there is draft registration for young men (not young women). And although the military accepts 17-year-olds with parental consent, the long months of training in the modern military mean almost no one will be 18 before going into a war or potential war.

Education

There were other reasons for lowering the voting age to 18, which was accomplished in 1971 by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, Kennedy said:

“Our young people today are far better equipped — intellectually, physically and emotionally — to make the type of choices involved in voting than were past generations of youth. … Because of the enormous impact of modern communications, especially television, our youth are extremely well informed on all the crucial issues of our time, foreign and domestic, national and local, urban and rural.

“Today’s 18-year-olds, for example, have unparalleled opportunities for education at the high school level.”

Some of those arguments might be pertinent today to further reducing the voting age to 16, including the spread of the Internet and social media.

On the other hand, California’s schools, which led the nation during the so-called “Golden Age” of 1960s education, since havefallen near the bottom on national tests.

‘Wild in the Streets’

As it usually does, San Francisco will sort things out on its own.

But the debate has an amusing element because of a classic cult movie made during the debate over the voting age, 1968’s “Wild in the Streets.” A youth movement is led by a Jim Morrison imitator named Max Frost, 24. His hit song, “Fourteen or Fight,” demands dropping the voting age to 14.

In a compromise with a senator played by Hal Holbrook, the age is dropped to 15. The youth the elect Max president.

Look for a young Richard Pryor as Stanley X, the drummer in Max’s group.

It’s a parody. But sometimes parodies become reality.

This piece was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

wild in the streets

Is Voting for Voting’s Sake a Good Thing?

Voter turnout in California is low. Just three weeks ago, the election held in Los Angeles saw an embarrassing 10 percent turnout. And, of course, the statewide turnout just last November was almost as bad.Irrespective of political affiliation, the immediate reaction among those of us who are politically engaged is that low voter turnout is not good for democracy. But perhaps we should challenge that bit of conventional wisdom. Is voting for voting’s sake really a good thing?

Members of the self-serving political class, made up of politicians and the special interests that support them, complain about the lack of voter participation because they believe they should be seen as patriotically promoting the democratic process. But their faux sincerity is based entirely on whether or not they see a greater political advantage to a higher voter turnout. If they believe that a higher turnout will drive more low information voters, who can be easily persuaded by glossy mailers, they are all for more voters. (At one point it was suggested that Los Angeles should increase turnout by providing those who vote a chance to win cash through a lottery system.) If they don’t think that the additional votes are likely to help them, they will do nothing substantive to actually encourage greater participation.

Then there are the members of the “social engineering” class who are constantly looking after our welfare. Their thinking parallels that of those who want to control how much fat we eat, how much soda we drink and who want to get us out our cars. They know what is best for us, and what is best for us is that we all vote. (Daniel Webster once said that “the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions.”)

From newspaper editors to academics, the “do-gooder” class weighs in on ways to solve this “serious problem” of voter disinterest and will sometimes stoop to promoting gimmicks to gin up turnout. On the Los Angeles ballot was a city charter amendment, which passed, that moves local elections so as to coincide with the state and federal elections that take place in even-numbered years. Almost no consideration was given to the fact that local issues will now become buried under the publicity surrounding races for president, governor, Congress and the Legislature. And if even-numbered years make such a big difference, why were the elections in 2014, an even-numbered year, ignored by so many voters?

There is no one reason why more eligible voters don’t participate. Some say that voting makes no difference, so why bother. Others may actually be exercising their right not to vote because they simply don’t see the need. Others might intelligently conclude that they are not personally informed enough and are satisfied with the decisions made by those who are more informed.

Let’s just hope that the scolds and manipulators will relax and let citizens exercise their constitutional rights as they see fit. Just as it is legally and morally wrong to prevent citizens from voting, we would find it extremely unpleasant to live with a system under which voting became compulsory.

Don’t believe that could happen? In the 2002 Iraqi presidential elections the turnout was 100 percent and Saddam Hussein received every one of the 11,445,638 votes. We suspect that many of those “participants” would have enjoyed the right not to vote.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece originally appeared on HJTA.org

CARTOON — Terrifying Costume: The Low Information Voter

Low info voter

David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star

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