For government to truly reflect our nation’s growing diversity and serve the needs of all its citizens, those citizens must be involved in the democratic process. The Greenlining Institute strives to make it easier for people to vote, to ensure that California voters have the information they need on key elections, and to make sure that voters actually go out and vote. We produce voter guides, both in print and online and work for policies that enable all citizens to fully participate in our democracy.
Greenlining believes election policies should make it easy for all, including working people with busy lives, to participate in our democracy. In 2013, Greenlining’s research documented that cities that hold local elections in odd years have much lower turnout and spend more per vote cast than cities that hold elections in even years, during the same time as state and national votes. Our work directly led to introduction of two bills in the California legislature that start to address this problem, one of which – AB 2550 – is still moving forward. Our research also helped spur creation of a local election reform commission in Los Angeles.
Greenlining supported California legislation passed in 2011 to establish online voter registration. This was successfully implemented in September 2012, allowing over 591,000 English- or Spanish-speaking Californians to register online for the November 2012 election. Since then, we helped facilitate the addition of eight Asian languages to the online registration system, reviewing the translations and providing input to the Secretary of State’s office. In partnership with other organizations, we helped develop a toolkit to promote the availability of online voter registration in multiple languages, which is available here.
We also supported same-day voter registration, which was passed in 2012 and is expected to be implemented in 2015, in conjunction with implementation of a long-awaited statewide voter registration database.
In addition, we advocate for the effective implementation of the National Voter Registration Act at public assistance agencies, including health benefit exchanges like Covered California, to help close the voter registration gap among communities of color.
In the future, we would like to see the process simplified further. Eligible citizens should not need to register for their rights. If the Internal Revenue Service and local courts can track us down to communicate about taxes or jury service, we know it is possible to monitor birth, death, and naturalization records to automatically enable eligible citizens to vote without the need to jump through bureaucratic hoops.
In California, felons who have served their time are allowed to vote. We think it is good policy for formerly incarcerated people to be fully reintegrated into society, and that includes allowing them to participate in our democracy. Unfortunately, many obstacles make this difficult. Greenlining co-sponsored California legislation in 2013 – AB 149 and AB 938 – to address felon disenfranchisement. AB 149, which was signed into law, requires probation departments to notify probationers of their eligibility to vote. This is an important step, because too often eligible citizens are not aware they have the right to vote. AB 938, which did not pass, would have clarified voter eligibility in California in the wake of prison realignment to protect the rights of people sentenced under the new “post-release community supervision” category. We continue to support the enfranchisement of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated communities in our democracy.
IMPROVING ELECTION ADMINISTRATION
Greenlining is a member of the Future of California Elections collaborative, a partnership involving a variety of civil rights and good government organizations, as well as county election officials, seeking to improve California elections for all. Greenlining also serves as a member of the Language Accessibility Advisory Committee, which advises the Secretary of State on language access issues in our elections system. Through these collaborations, we have been able to identify flaws in the tracking of a voter’s preferred language and recommend policies to improve the capture of language preference data to better serve limited-English voters. We have also been able to identify and address voter information issues and recommend policies promoting plain language and better information design to meet the needs of a 21st century electorate. Many of our recommendations were even adopted in a report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in January 2014. These are just some of the ways we work every day to improve our elections administration and design a system that empowers the new majority.