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

Writing the Rules for the Republicans’ Big Quiz Show


Some years ago I worked in game show development for a wonderful actor and TV host, Bert Convy, who’d recently formed a production company. He asked me to create game elements for a new show, and we negotiated an agreement that would pay me a very minimal royalty. I remember sitting in an upholstered leather chair in his office as he stood leaning against the front of his desk, looking irritated.

“I’m really a producer now,” he said ruefully. “I’m screwing the talent.”

Today, I’m going to use this odd talent to solve the problem of how to get 16 Republican candidates into one televised debate.

In addition to my background in game shows, I present my credentials as a former Republican candidate in a primary for U.S. Congress and two elections for the California Assembly. I have participated in debates and forums where there were two candidates, three candidates, four candidates, and 10 candidates. Once I was excluded from a debate and spent the evening in the parking lot talking with members of the press and public.

I offer my considered opinion — as a uniquely qualified professional in the field of bells, buzzers, questions and cameras — that it is a really bad idea to hold a debate with 10 candidates on stage and six in the parking lot.

Aside from the problems inherent in the selection process, 10 is too many candidates to have on stage at the same time. Answers will be repetitive and viewers will struggle to remember who said what. Candidates will pay joke writers for zingers to help them get into the news stories.

And the spectacle will become the story. An MSNBC host will remark that the candidates look like boarding group B for a Southwest flight to Cleveland. Fox News will respond that Hillary Clinton flies on private jets because nobody could afford the airline fees for that much baggage. CNN will cut to a report on a missing plane.

Instead, the Republican presidential debates should follow a format similar to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, where players take the field for just two or three innings. It would work like this:

Segment 1: Four candidates take the stage. Each is given a 20-second introduction by the moderator. Each makes a one-minute opening statement. Then a question is randomly chosen from a selection of questions on domestic policy, and the candidates each have two minutes to answer. Next, a question is randomly chosen on foreign policy, and each candidate has two minutes again. Finally, the candidates each have 30 seconds for a closing statement.


The format repeats until all the candidates have been heard. Current polls would be used to determine the order in which candidates take the stage. The suggested timings would present 16 candidates, in four segments, in two hours.

To give viewers the opportunity to hear more, the sponsoring news organization would conduct interviews of each candidate in advance and post the full-length videos on its website as the debate begins. It’s not the Nixon-Kennedy era anymore — we have the “second screen” to offer options for deeper content than television alone can provide. Viewers can be pointed to the online material with on-screen graphics and comments by the moderator.

This format treats the candidates respectfully and provides clarity for viewers, with a reasonable blend of pace and depth. And it accomplishes the most important goal of a televised debate: enabling voters across the country to see and hear the people who are seeking to become the next president of the United States.

After all, this isn’t a game.


Reach the author at Susan@SusanShelley.com or follow Susan on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

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 …

Click here to read the full article


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

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