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Low Voter Turnout



Does it matter if the election is a primary, special election, presidential election or vote on a tax measure? Who are these die-hard voters, and who are their fair-weather counterparts? We had a conversation on the effects of low voter turnout with president of the non-profit California Voter Foundation, Kim Alexander.  

Alexander cited the registration process, a complex representation structures, and a lack of media coverage and general information regarding smaller elections all as reasons for low-voter turnout.

"I think it's hard for California voters, there's this element of voter fatigue,” Alexander said. “There were 29 counties in California, of the 48, that were having elections - it's difficult for voters to find information."

She recommended voters visit Smartvoter.org to educate themselves on the local issues, but she still wants to see more media coverage surrounding these local elections.

“When you have these local elections and they're isolated community by community, you end up having a handful of people intensely knowledgeable about the measure and a lot of people just confused," Alexander said.

Communities will often have-off year elections, sometimes even in a different month, which often results in a low turnout.  Alexander explained her home town of Culver City has local elections in April. Her father who was on the city council bluntly explained to her the reason is they don't want everyone voting in city elections, they “only people who really care about Culver City to vote in Culver City elections."

"You have this tension between people who are running these communities who want people to be engaged and to make informed choices and they know that when those local contests are consolidated with state and federal contests it makes for very long ballots and it contributes to voter fatigue,” Alexander said. “Casual voters may not put as much thought into those decisions as those who come out for just that one contest."

The United States is embarrassingly low in terms of voter turnout compared to other industrial nations. Alexander said one of the factors is the registration process. Because Californians have to reregister to vote every time they move and people are very mobile in this state. Alexander said all too often people don’t reregister in time to vote. Her hope is to tie voter registration with Covered California’s healthcare exchange program.

Additionally, election processes varies from state to state and California's process is very different from other states.

"I hear from a lot of people moving from other states that they're really bewildered by the voting process here," Alexander said.

Alexander also placed blame on the media for reporting on the low voter turn-out early in the day and potentially discouraging people from heading to the polls. Although she admitted the same could be said for reporting high voter turn-out. Her recommendation is to not talk about turn-out during an election, but instead build excitement and inform the public on the issues.

She referred to the 2008 election when it was well known Barack Obama would win California, but that didn’t stop people from showing up to the polls in mass to cast their ballots. It was a time when people were really excited and engaged in the process and the media was encouraging that excitement. 

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