To increase voter participation rates among infrequent voters, particularly in low-income and ethnic communities.
California's electorate does not fully represent the population of California adults eligible to vote. California voters as a group tend to be more affluent and are more likely to be white than the eligible population. The policy preferences of likely voters are quite different than those of eligible voters, as shown by the Public Policy Institute of California's 2006 study, "California's Exclusive Electorate," and as a result, decision making on important state issues does not reflect the full population's needs and interests.
In January 2006, The James Irvine Foundation launched the California Votes Initiative to increase voter participation among infrequent voters — particularly those in low-income and ethnic communities — in the San Joaquin Valley and the Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. The initiative concluded in 2009.
The initiative supported nine organizations to conduct nonpartisan outreach using a variety of approaches, including congregation-based outreach, neighborhood-based outreach, live phone calls, voter forums, multilingual materials and information provided via ethnic and mainstream media. The initiative was also designed to identify and share best practices in nonpartisan voter outreach through an accompanying evaluation.
The California Votes Initiative was a project of Irvine's California Democracy program, which aims to advance effective public policy decision making that is reflective of and responsive to all Californians. Improving voter participation rates should yield election results more reflective of all Californians' interests and priorities, which in turn would enable public officials to better know and serve their constituents, as well as increase their accountability to those they represent.
Covering election cycles in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the California Votes Initiative combined rigorous research with nonpartisan voter outreach by nonprofit organizations in Central and Southern California. It concluded in 2009 with the publication of a third and final evaluation report.
Below is a list of the nine participating organizations, with the region of each organization's voter outreach noted in parentheses.
Participating community-based organizations directly contacted more than 150,000 low-propensity voters via door-to-door visits and phone calls, and hundreds of thousands more via indirect methods, such as direct mail, inspiring many to take part in the electoral process for the first time.
Working closely with each organization, an expert evaluation team facilitated data collection and management, analyzed post-election outcomes and determined the lessons to be drawn from the initiative's results. Irvine has publicized the overall results in an effort to amplify the impact of the direct outreach activities and contribute to policymaker awareness of changing voting patterns.
In October 2007, the preliminary findings were shared with the field through a report, New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization. A second report, New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: Second in a Series of Reports on the California Votes Initiative, was published in September 2008 with insights gleaned from the February and June 2008 elections.
A final evaluation report, New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: Third and Final Report on the California Votes Initiative, was published in November 2009. The report identifies five best practices for significantly increasing voting rates in ethnic and low-income communities. The findings show how specific approaches for contacting potential voters can raise participation rates. To learn more about the evaluation of this initiative, click here.