We are living in a moment where history is being written and the direction of this country is being formed in almost every aspect of our lives. From COVID-19 reshaping our political economy and our approach to health to witnessing some of the clearest attacks on our Democracy.
Just last week, the state of Georgia and other far-right interests introduced one of the most repressive voting rights bill in modern US history which disproportionately targets low-income and communities of color. This is a dangerous trend that has grown nationwide that is not going unchallenged.
In California, a group of committed legislators and advocates for Democracy are working to expand voting rights and ensure access to the ballot box for all. Senate Bill 286, authored by state Sen. Dave Min, is California’s new Voting Rights Bill that would help increase voter turnout in counties across the state.
While California remains one of the most diverse electorates in the nation, it continues to be plagued by issues of voter disenfranchisement. This bill would ensure diverse leadership and a robust voter turnout in order to strengthen our democracy and re-engage disaffected voters for local, regional, and county-wide elections.
California’s existing voting laws allow a minority of voters to determine some of the most critical regional elected positions in the state in low turnout primary elections.
For decades, voters have expressed their concerns when election requirements are not aligned and the difficulty of understanding election guidelines. Having to vote in three or four elections that cover the same area has created an overwhelming confusion that disengages voters, consequently drastically affecting the results of elections.
Voting trends show that the majority of voters turnout in the November cycle, assuming the final decision at the top of contests is decided. Special districts, like county boards of education, are decided by plurality in June.
SB 286 aligns voting with statewide and federal elections. This bill would move these elections to November so it ensures the majority of their constituencies are deciding who their elected is. This would also ensure that current offices have to be decided in November, following the same calendar as state and federal offices.
The reality is that across the state, voters participate at substantially higher rates in the November elections than during the primaries. In 2018, turnout saw only 28% of eligible voters participate in the California primaries compared to 50% in the general election. In
2020, a presidential year, those numbers were only 38% of eligible voters in the primary compared to 71% in the general election.
It is unknown why voters decide not to participate in primaries. It could be a lack of national attention, spending by candidates, a lack of government outreach.
Regardless, it is important to any democracy that the majority of the voting electorate decide who is elected, particularly a majority that’s reflective of the population. By allowing these county seats to be decided by 30% of the registered voters, we are perpetuating a system where our elected representatives are not reflective of communities as a whole.
Our vision of a participatory democracy means that all voters, whether they are first-time voters or non-English speaking voters should have an opportunity to vote for their county governance.
SB-286 is a strong first step towards full inclusion of our democracy, and it will show us which legislators are going to stand on the right side of history or be remembered for blocking progress for their own self-interests.
Mike Young is the political & organizing director of the California League of Conservation Voters, and a San Fernando Valley resident for over 30 years.