Yesterday I went to the State Capitol to attend and testify at a hearing of the Senate's budget subcommittee where this issue was taken up.
Since 2011, the state has shut down funding for state-mandated election program. These programs resulted from laws passed by the state requiring counties to provide services to California voters, like the option to vote by mail.
A recent survey by the state's Dept. of Finance found that counties continue to perform the mandated duties even though they are no longer getting reimbursed for them.
CVF's letter to the California State Senate asking that funding for election mandates be restored to the state budget outlines the impact this ongoing lack of funding has had on California voters. Here's an excerpt:
In lieu of funding support for election mandates for the past six years, the Legislature has instead chosen to pass optional laws that allow counties to provide certain voter services and programs but do not require them to do so. This pattern of lawmaking creates tremendous inequality in voter services and experiences and undermines all California voters’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law. Counties that have more resources are able to provide additional voter services such as early voting, postage paid vote-by-mail envelopes, and voter outreach programs while counties with less revenue do not. CVF’s analysis of county budget data collected by the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials found that in November 2014, the amount of money counties spent on elections varied from as low as $0.85 to nearly $11 per voter.
This map of the state from the LAO report shows very clearly how voter registration is higher in the wealthier, coastal areas of our state and lower in inland locations like the Central Valley and Inland Empire. While there are surely a number of factors that impact voter registration rates, varying resources at the county level to encourage participation is certainly one of them.
My favorite part of the report, though, is this:
The report suggests a block grant approach, which is something I've been working on with some fellow advocates for the past year. We have a proposal in development that we will be sharing soon. In the meantime, CVF will continue to work to restore the election mandates funding. Please contact me if you want to get involved!
Thanks to Guy Marzorati at KQED for writing this story, Report: State Still Short-Changing Counties for Election Costs, covering this important subject.