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

Key Trends in the Bay Area

  • Voter turnout (the share of registered voters who vote) in the Nine-County Bay Area was 80 percent in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, but only 50 percent in the midterm election of 2014.
  • Voting data disaggregated for Latinx and Asian or Pacific Islander voters shows that registration and voting rates are lower for these groups than for the population overall. In 2016, 68 percent of Latinx citizens 18 years and older registered to vote and 53 percent of Asian or Pacific Islanders. Among these registered voters, three quarters of them voted.
  • In the 2016 presidential election, 77 percent of citizens 18 years and older in Marin County voted, compared with 58 percent in Solano County.

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.

Strategies

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

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