Voting: Political inclusion is essential to a thriving multicultural democracy.

Insights & Analyses

  • Voter turnout (the share of registered voters who voted) in the nine-county Bay Area increased from about 80 percent in the 2012 & 2016 presidential elections to 85 percent in 2020. Midterm election turnout increased from 50 percent in 2014 to 71 percent in 2018 but dropped to 57 percent in 2022.
  • Voting data disaggregated for Latinx and Asian American voters show that registration and voting rates are generally lower for these groups than the overall population. For instance, during the 2022 midterm, less than 70% Latinx and Asian American citizens registered. Among these registered voters, less than half voted. 
  • Martin county has the highest voting rate. In the 2020 general election, 82 percent of voting-age citizens in Marin County voted. Comparatively, Solano county has the lowest voting rate, about 67 percent of voting-age citizens in the county voted during the 2020 general election.

Drivers of Inequity

While Jim Crow-type disenfranchisement tactics, including poll taxes and literacy tests, have been abolished, discriminatory policies and practices continue to prevent many voters of color and voters with disabilities from exercising their fundamental democratic right to vote. A 2014 study identified five key types of voting rights violations in California: disenfranchisement of currently and formerly incarcerated people; voter suppression and intimidation (particularly in predominantly Latinx communities); language access barriers; disability access barriers; and vote dilution in at-large elections, which prevents historically marginalized communities from electing candidates of their choice or influencing the outcome of an election.


Build community power: Policies to increase political inclusion

  • Make registration more accessible through online registration and same-day registration, and by expanding voter registration in schools and other community-serving institutions.
  • Ensure that people who are on probation or incarcerated for misdemeanor convictions can exercise their right to vote by implementing voter registration drives (as San Francisco and Alameda County have done).
  • Make voting more accessible by ensuring safe and accessible polling spaces, making it easy for people to vote by mail, and improving language access.
  • Expand voting rights by allowing non-citizens to vote in school board elections.
  • Conduct targeted outreach to communities with low voting rates to increase participation, using integrated voter engagement.
  • Mobilize marginalized voters through election reforms like ranked-choice voting and public financing of local elections that get money out of politics and make it possible for diverse candidates to run for office.
  • Empower residents, particularly those that have been marginalized or civically disengaged, to influence public spending in their communities through participatory budgeting

Strategy in Action

Vallejo’s participatory budgeting initiative drives meaningful civic engagement among people of color and other underrepresented groups. Participatory budgeting (PB) – a democratic process through which communities can make choices about how to spend some portion of a public budget — is gaining momentum nationwide. In 2012, Vallejo, California implemented the first city-wide PB process in the nation, which stands out for funding program investments as well as capital projects. The process is designed to maximize civic engagement, especially among groups historically underrepresented in the city’s governance and decision-making. PB Vallejo is open to all city residents ages 16 and over, regardless of immigration status or prior conviction record, and includes language access resources for the city’s largest linguistic groups. PB has been shown to increase the likelihood of eligible residents to vote in regular elections. During its first five cycles, PB Vallejo has engaged more than 20,000 residents to allocate over $8.3 million of public funding. Learn more.


Photo: Element5 Digital/Unsplash

In Their Own Words...

“ When we are fighting for young people throughout Oakland to have the right to vote, we are leveling the political playing field.”

— Ixchel Arista, Oakland

A coalition of youth organizers in Oakland, California, launched Oakland Youth Vote — a campaign aimed at securing voting rights for 16- and 17-year-old residents. Ixchel Arista, a recent graduate of Oakland High and a youth organizer with Oakland Kids First (OKF), has been an integral part of the movement. She and other young activists helped push for the landmark passage of Measure QQ in 2020, which lowered the voting age to 16 for local school board elections and made Oakland the largest jurisdiction to approve of 16-year-old voting in any form. Although Ixchel will be heading to college soon, she says that she’ll continue to support efforts to get more young people civically engaged. Learn more.


Photo: Felix Uribe

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