California Common Cause scored three major victories this weekend, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed three bills to make ballot initiatives more open and transparent, boost voter turnout, and ensure every vote is counted.
Here’s a rundown on the bills signed into law:
- Senate Bill 1253 overhauls the ballot initiative process. It will give advocates more time to collect the signatures they need to put proposed legislation on the ballot, permit amendments to initiatives before they go on the ballot, and allow proponents to withdraw their initiatives if state lawmakers act on the issue first or they change their minds.
- Senate Bill 113 will expand pre-registration opportunities to 16-year-olds, allowing them to vote as soon as they turn 18. The plan will take effect once VoteCal, our new voter registration database, is up and running (slated for 2016.)
- Senate Bill 29 lets the state count mailed-in ballots received after Election Day, so long as they are postmarked by that date. Previously, these votes were tossed out.
Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said the initiative bill “will give voters the chance to see what initiatives are about early in the process, address flaws if there are problems with the language, and get easy access to information about who is backing the initiatives.” The legislation “modernizes the initiative process to put voters back in driver’s seat,” she added.
The new laws make it easier for Californians to make themselves heard, Feng observed.
“Our state’s most recent primary, this past June, saw the lowest turnout since 1946. That’s unacceptable,” she said. “There are lots of reasons why Americans today – and Californians, in particular – feel discouraged by the political process, not the least of which are hurdles put in place to keep them from the polls. With reforms like those in SB 113 and SB 29 we’re likely to see our turnout numbers increase. That’s a win for voters and the state alike.”
“Research indicates that the earlier young people start to vote, the likelier they are to remain lifelong voters,” said Sarah Swanbeck, legislative affairs advocate for California Common Cause. “We’re thrilled today that California is encouraging younger high school students to register to vote at age 16, in preparation for voting when they turn 18. This measure should encourage youth to become politically and civically engaged, benefitting them and our communities.”
Swanbeck added that SB 29, allowing voters to submit their ballots by mail on Election Day, puts those who vote by mail on the same footing as those who go to the polls. “Many individuals – due to disabilities, job requirements and other factors -- simply can’t get to the polls,” she said. “These Californians already have access to mail ballots. Now they can submit their votes on Election Day without wondering whether they mailed their ballots in time. Postmark rules take guesswork out of the process.”