Strong voter turnout is crucial for a strong democracy. It also has a tangible impact on the lives of Californians. With the November election just a week away, we need to remember that low voter turnout has very real consequences, particularly for economically and socially vulnerable communities.
Improving electoral participation is key to positive change. What’s more, it is our collective responsibility.
The good news is that Californians are now registering to vote in the largest numbers ever seen. As of the Sept. 9 report of registration from the office of the secretary of state, there were 18.3 million Californians registered to vote. And huge numbers have registered since.
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The bad news is that not all groups register and vote at the same rate. Overall, people of color, people who are low-income and people with low educational attainment vote much less frequently than those who are white, higher-income and better-educated. Socioeconomic status is linked to the likelihood of voting, as research has repeatedly confirmed.
The figures for our state are stunning. Low-income communities and communities of color have significantly lower voting rates – often 20, 30, even 40 percentage points lower, depending on the location and type of election.
Disparities in registration rates are also troubling. According to the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis’ Center for Regional Change, the Latino registration rate, as of early October, was 65 percent, and the Asian American rate was only 53 percent, compared to the statewide average of 76 percent. Meanwhile, 57 percent of California youths age 18-24 were registered to vote.
The consequences of uneven political participation are serious. Policymakers, elected officials and other decision-makers need to hear from and be responsive to the needs of all the communities they represent. But uneven voter turnout means that they hear from just a subset of Californians. The end result is that in any given election, California’s leaders aren’t listening to the state’s diverse voices and needs.
This has visible and lasting effects on people throughout the state. Communities with low turnout rates lose their voice in shaping policy. This affects Californians’ daily lives, jobs, health and education. Action is needed to increase participation and to build a more representative electorate.
Today, the California Civic Engagement Project, in partnership with the California secretary of state’s office, is launching a new, public interactive web platform that maps the relationship between voter turnout and the economic, educational and health challenges faced by communities up and down the state.
This new mapping tool helps identify areas of high and low voter turnout in recent elections, down to the neighborhood precinct level. It also highlights hot spots of political vulnerability, where residents face multiple disadvantages in terms of economic, educational and health outcomes, and lack a strong voice in the political process.
Data is powerful. This new mapping tool provides community leaders new ways to educate their residents about the tangible consequences of voting and not voting, and to encourage their political engagement. In the long term, this kind of map-based analysis of political participation could lead to improved outcomes for our state’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
But data is just part of the solution. Before Nov. 8, we can all play a role in increasing voter engagement in our communities. We can start by making sure that we ourselves vote in the election. We can reach out and encourage family, friends, neighbors and others to turn in their ballots. The message? Vote as if your future and well-being depended on it. Because they do. We need all California’s diverse communities to join together in shaping the decisions that shape our lives.
Mindy Romero is the director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.