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California Voter Participation Survey

Strategies for Improving California Voter Participation


1. Increase awareness about the availability of absentee voting

Infrequent voters say they like to vote and that voting is important, but that they are too busy with work or family to get to the polls. Elections have been traditionally seen as a “one-day sale”, but in recent years alternative voting methods, such as early voting and absentee voting, have become increasingly available and popular. However, many infrequent California voters are not familiar with absentee voting, also referred to as “vote-by-mail”. Half of the infrequent voters surveyed said they had never voted absentee.

Raising public awareness of absentee and early voting opportunities can ensure that busy schedules and long work hours aren’t a barrier to voting for many Californians who would like to vote.

2. Educate employers and employees about taking time off from work to vote

Under California law (Elections Code Section 14000), Californians have the right to take up to two hours off of work without loss of pay on Election Day in order to vote. However, many employers and employees are unaware of this right. The employee must provide his or her employer with notice to take this time off at least two working days prior to Election Day (essentially, the Friday before a Tuesday election). Elections Code Section 14001 requires employers to conspicuously post a notice of the right to take time off work to vote at least ten days prior to a statewide election.

The survey findings show that job hours are a barrier to voting. More than half of the infrequent voters and unregistered Californians surveyed said they work more than 40 hours a week. Job hours were the biggest factor leading infrequent voters to say they’re too busy to vote. Of those who said they were too busy with work or family to vote, 42 percent said it was because “job hours are too long.”

Educating employers and employees about the right to take time off from work to vote, as well as enforcement of the time-off disclosure law could reduce one significant barrier to voting for many Californians.

3. Develop and promote social and personal networking strategies

Family and friends can play an important role in motivating infrequent voters to vote. Conversations with family members were found to be just as influential as local newspapers among infrequent voters when deciding how to vote. Programs that focus on family-oriented voter education, as well as small-group voter preparation gatherings can give infrequent voters a better context for understanding how particular candidates and issues on the ballot will affect them personally.

Organizations seeking to increase voter participation might want to encourage voter education house parties and develop toolkits to help foster small-group gatherings. Toolkits can provide tips on how and when to hold a house party, and what resources can be useful during the gathering and any follow-up gatherings scheduled to coincide with election debates or election night itself.

4. Review the Department of Motor Vehicles’ handling of voter registration data

18 percent of nonvoters surveyed say they thought they were registered to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Currently, 25 percent of California’s eligible voter population—an estimated 5.5 million Californians—are not registered to vote. If 18 percent of those 5.5 million people think they are registered through the DMV but in fact are not, that represents nearly 1 million Californians. Organizations that promote voting and registration have heard anecdotal stories for years about problems with DMV registration. Potentially hundreds of thousands of Californians are falling through the cracks with so-called “motor-voter” registration. Those who think they were registered through the DMV often find out they are not only when they attempt to vote on Election Day and discover they are not listed as a registered voter at their polling place.

State and local officials should investigate the DMV registration process to determine how it can be streamlined and strengthened to make sure that there is less confusion about one’s registration status when processed through the DMV.

5. Review the U.S. Postal Service’s handling of election-related materials

Nearly half of the Californians eligible but unregistered to vote who were surveyed said they have been registered to vote before, but not at their current address. Nearly one in four say they move around so frequently it is difficult to stay registered. As with the DMV, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) plays an increasingly important role in facilitating voter participation. The USPS handles change of address applications when people move, and also is responsible for the delivery of absentee ballot applications, absentee ballots, and voter registration affidavits.

Better coordination between the USPS and state and local election authorities can help streamline the voting process and ensure the timely and secure delivery of election-related materials.

6. Review and publicize jury pool selection practices

Nearly one in four eligible but unregistered Californians say they don’t want to register because they don’t want to get called for jury duty. California, like more than half of the U.S. states, uses multiple sources of data for jury pools. However, there is a perception among a significant number of Californians that one can avoid jury duty by remaining unregistered to vote.

It would be useful to collect data from a number of California counties to determine the actual sources of data used to select jury pools and then publicize the findings to ensure potential voters are not being dissuaded from registering due to a false impression about the source of jury pool data.

7. Improve voter data privacy

Many Californians are unregistered to vote because they want their information to remain private. 23 percent of those surveyed agreed that this was keeping them from registering to vote. California voters have the right to withhold some data on voter registration forms, but the forms provide confusing instructions. Providing a phone number, one’s marital status or email address is optional on the California voter registration form, but this is not clearly or consistently explained on the form itself. Sensitive voter data, such as a voter’s birthplace and exact date of birth, should be redacted before such data is made available to secondary users, such as political campaigns.

Initiating data privacy practices that protect California voters from the threat of identity theft can help reduce a significant barrier to participation.



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This page was first published on April 7, 2005 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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