When the Voters Choice Act was signed into law in 2016, many California lawmakers and voter advocacy groups expected the new law to help bring significant changes to the voting process, making it easier. Reach out and get involved.
A key goal of the act is to strengthen voter engagement and turnout, especially among historically marginalized voting groups, in counties that have opted into the new program. The Voters Choice Act seeks to accomplish this by expanding voting opportunities, offering more flexible options for voter participation,, and requiring election officials to work with communities to improve their administrative and voter turnout planning.
Implementation of the Voters Choice Act began in five counties in 2018. Five years ago, 27 California counties—representingore than half of the state’s eligible voting population—chosehe voluntary voting model, and two more counties will adopt it in the 2024 election cycle.
When enacted, the Voters Choice Act represented a major electoral reform for the state. But has it lived up to expectations and actually improved voter turnout, especially among underserved and marginalized populations?
To find out, California Common Cause, the California Black Power Network, and other leading voting advocacy experts from across the state came together to examine the law’s impact. This includes surveying and interviewing community organizations and county election officials, as well as looking at data from California’s 2022 voter files.
While it is challenging to isolate the effects of the Voters Choice Act and a variety of factors that affect voter turnout, our findings on the law’s effectiveness are a mix of successes and shortcomings.
On the upside, we found that counties that adopted the act reported fewer issues with bilingual poll worker staffing than counties that did not; more accessible voting machines for voters with disabilities; few reported problems at voting centers in the three days before and on Election Day; and a significant reduction in provisional voting. The rate of in-person voting continues to be higher in Voters Choice Act counties than in counties without it during the 2022 election.
But we have more difficulty determining other expected benefits.
Despite the law requiring counties to develop specific plans for voter outreach, many county election officials and community groups report being unsure whether their efforts to Voter reach are reaching historically marginalized voters, including communities of color, youth, and low-income voters. Voter data for the 2022 elections also shows a persistently low turnout among groups, and there is no evidence that the law – as currently implemented – has done anything to close the deep and persistent differences in voter participation in California.
Election officials and voter engagement organizations in counties that have adopted the law also told us that lack of funding is a major barrier to achieving more effective voter outreach and education, and other issues.
Given these mixed results in the implementation of the Voters Choice Act and its impact, it is clear that we must do more to strengthen its effectiveness. As the 2024 election season begins, action developments take on a new sense of urgency.
First, we must restore state oversight and leadership in implementing the Voters Choice Act. State monitoring and involvement in county enforcement has decreased significantly since 2020, resulting in less support for community groups and election officials involved in land enforcement.
We believe that the California Secretary of State should reinstate the official Voters Choice Act statewide task force with a membership that represents the broad categories required by law. This will bring new attention and necessary support to the law, especially in the future provinces that implement the voting model. There are early signs that the secretary is moving in this direction, which we applaud. The secretary of state must also collaborate and convene with a wide range of data experts, advocates and community organizations to identify, research and develop solutions to ongoing challenges in voter race and ethnicity data. , especially for Black voters and Asian-American subgroups. Each of these ideas will help potentially support much-needed outreach efforts to California’s most marginalized communities before the 2024 election.
There should also be more voter education and outreach funding in Gov. 2024 budget. Gavin Newsom aimed at disenfranchised voting groups. While we recognize this is a challenging budget year, additional state funding that enables trusted messengers to reach under-participated communities may ultimately close participation gaps. to voters in a way that does not involve legal changes and policy changes.
While the Voters Choice Act was never intended to be a panacea for all the voting challenges facing California, one thing is clear: The law is a reform worth revisiting and reinvesting in, and still is. there is promise for expanding electoral participation across the state and the majority. voting groups.
Jonathan Mehta Stein is the executive director of California Common Cause. James Woodson is the co-founder and executive director of the California Black Power Network.