A Powerful Alliance for Election Reform
Voter engagement may be at an all-time low — but not so the energy and enthusiasm among those working to bring more citizens to the polls.
Witness Future of California Elections, an unprecedented collaboration between election officials, civil rights organizations and reform advocates. With an enthusiastic new leader at the helm and some policy success under its belt, members have a strengthened commitment to forge ahead together.
“FOCE has helped to foster trust and deepen the existing collaboration between groups that had not yet worked together in a coordinated and substantive way,” said Vince Hall, FOCE’s new project leader, who brings two decades of public policy experience to his role. “Together we can present sensible recommendations much more clearly and powerfully.”
Brought together as an informal network of 18 organizations by the James Irvine Foundation in 2011, FOCE hired staff and became a fiscally sponsored project of Community Partners in 2013. Within its first year, FOCE members worked together to accelerate the development of policy for expanded online voting registration. They’ve since helped see through legislation that allows legal permanent residents to serve as poll workers, a key way to collapse language barriers. They’ve also helped with outreach to those potential poll workers, another of their many accomplishments.
“When you have major players like the ACLU of California, California Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, NALEO Educational Fund, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA all agreeing with each other and working together alongside election officials, you know you’re onto something good,” said FOCE Deputy Director Astrid Garcia Ochoa.
FOCE held its third annual conference in Sacramento recently, a diverse gathering of some 300 election reform stakeholders, its largest yet. The event drew California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye for the keynote, and also featured such speakers as Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and Senator Ben Allen. It has also become an occasion for the release of valuable research to help inform policy.
Both Hall and Garcia Ochoa see a lot of energy around election reform, particularly with the new secretary of state. They are excited to support FOCE members as they push more aggressively for reform in the coming year and work together to address key issues.
They also credit Community Partners with helping to keep them focused on their work. “You make us so much bigger,” says Garcia Ochoa. “With Community Partners crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, we are able to focus on our work on impacting California’s democracy.”
Language barriers, accessibility issues for the disabled, budgetary constraints, and a system that’s fallen drastically behind technologically are all seen as the systemic problems keeping voter turnout at historic lows, says Hall. Then there is voter apathy.
“People have been misled to believe their vote doesn’t count,” he lamented. “We need to engage people at an early age in education and dialogue about the opportunities and responsibilities that come with living in a democracy.”