By Doug Chapin – Director, Future of California Elections
On January 23rd in Sacramento, the Future of California Elections (FOCE) hosted its first public event. FOCE initially formed in late 2011 with help and support from the James Irvine Foundation and is now setting up shop as an independent entity. This meeting was our opportunity to introduce FOCE and its work to the state’s policy community.
As someone who has been helping facilitate the group since its formation in late 2011, and who will be directing FOCE’s efforts going forward, I was both excited and nervous about the event.
I was excited because I believe in the motivation behind the project: identify leaders and practitioners who understand the challenges facing the state’s election system and then help find common ground for policies that will increase participation without sacrificing efficiency or effectiveness. But I was nervous because FOCE was getting ready to expand the conversation beyond its two dozen or so founding members to include policymakers and other advocates from across the state.
In particular, I wondered if the group’s intense focus on election policy and the need for consensus would resonate with a statewide audience. Fortunately, I knew we were putting our best feet forward through two morning panels: first, featuring our partnerships with the Secretary of State and other policymakers and then a panel looking ahead to identify the next big ideas for improving California elections. As the day progressed, we spotlighted the need for disaster planning in elections (California may not have hurricanes but it has known its share of earthquakes, wildfires and other events) and examined the impact of new voters and new technology on the short- and long-term future of the state’s voting process.
I knew the day was a success, however, during a late-afternoon opportunity for conference attendees to “talk back” to FOCE members about ideas and opportunities in the areas of voter registration, voting technology, voting information, civic education and innovation. I had been worried about attendance and energy at that session, but just about every one of our nearly 200 attendees stayed to discuss the issues – so many, in fact, that we almost ran out of time to discuss everything before the day closed with a policy forum featuring legislators and party leaders on election issues.
Looking forward, I am encouraged by the response we have received to date to the Future of California Elections, and I am confident that the same energy we saw in Sacramento will translate into a wide-ranging and productive discussion about improvements to the state’s elections.
I’d like to thank The James Irvine Foundation for its continued support and encouragement for our work—and special thanks to FOCE participant California Common Cause for organizing and hosting the event.