Joint Oversight Hearing: Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments & Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting
Senator Ben Allen and Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Chairs
Statewide Voter Turnout
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
State Capitol, Room 3191
Sacramento, California 95814
Testimony by Jennifer Pae
League of Women Voters of California Education Fund
afternoon. My name is Jennifer Pae and I am the Project Manager for Voter
Service and Education at the League of Women Voters of California Education
Fund (LWVCEF). For the past 95 years, the League of Women Voters has advocated
to expand and protect the right to vote. The LWVCEF continues this commitment
by conducting voter services and civic education activities that build
participation in the democratic process. Before I begin to describe the
LWVCEF’s recent launch of the Best
Practices Manual for Official Voter Information Guides project to increase
voter participation, I would like to share my personal story for some
perspective of why I came to this work and why it is so important.
past year my family celebrated the 40th anniversary of arriving in
the United States. My mother worked the night shift while going to school and
raising two young girls. She had been in this country for more than 25 years but
hadn’t registered to vote until I asked her to when I turned 18 years old.
Since then, she’s called me during every election to help her with her ballot.
if voting in California was truly accessible to all eligible Californians. We
know the electorate is older, richer, and more educated, but imagine if the
barriers to participate were eliminated so those who vote less often−the young,
poor, and less educated−had an equal opportunity to get registered and vote.
we look at the changing demographics of our state, we know we have a lot of
work ahead of us to engage those that are most disenfranchised, particularly
young people and communities of color. This is why the LWVCEF is proud to
continue to partner with the State Library to distribute the Easy Voter Guide in five languages, which
has been community reviewed since 1994. Furthermore, we are excited about a
pilot partnership during the 2014 election between the League’s Smart Voter and
MapLight to produce an improved Voter’s Edge, a comprehensive nonpartisan
online voting guide about California’s elections including campaign funding
Manual for Official Voter Information Guides
many factors contribute to low voter turnout, we believe that voter information
is an important tool to engage and expand the electorate. To continue this
tradition of providing accessible and quality voter information, LWVCEF has
released a Best Practices Manual for
Official Voter Information Guides as an easy-to-use resource for election
officials and community groups working to educate California’s diverse
electorate. Through this initiative, we aim to make voter information more
effective, more inviting, and more useful by giving the right kind of
information to voters at the right time, in the right way.
by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation and in partnership with the Center
for Civic Design and the Future of California Elections, the manual was
informed by over a year’s worth of research with diverse stakeholders,
including election officials, community organizations, good government groups,
and frequent and infrequent voters from across California. The 100 research
participants, who included voters, potential voters, and infrequent voters that
closely matched California’s demographics, underpin all of the conclusions and
research uncovered three main insights into improving voter information:
of plain language can’t be overemphasized
layout and thoughtful visual presentation are important for comprehension
guides are an important civic literacy tool.
on our research and our experiences during the Easy Voter Guide community review sessions with adult literacy
students, it is clear that voters have a strong desire for information in plain
language. This includes providing the right information at the right level of
detail and organizing the information in an easy to follow path.
example, the Voter Bill of Rights can provide useful information, but it must
be accessible to voters. During an interview at the Berkeley Public Library, a
potential voter learned he was eligible to vote as an ex-felon after carefully
reading through it. In many of the interviews with infrequent voters and new
voters, they stopped to read the Voter Bill of Rights completely and carefully.
However, they also found it hard to read and asked questions about what it
said. A bilingual low-literacy participant stated “These are things I need to
know…but some of them are confusing.”
election terms were also difficult to understand. Research participants were
unfamiliar with important terms that are key to understanding elections. As a
result, some participants skipped or misunderstood sections of the voter guide.
The most complicated election term was the description of the “Top Two Primary”;
ultimately, this language had to be removed from the voter guide prototype
because it was so confusing. Research participants needed hints to help them
interpret the information, such as descriptions of the offices: what do they
do? How will the winner of the contest impact my life? Why should I care?
also know that if the voter information is written in plain language, this
provides better quality translations. During a potential voter interview in Los
Angeles with our partners at the Center for Asian Americans United for Self
Empowerment (CAUSE), a recently naturalized immigrant was reviewing a prototype
voter guide in Chinese and she became frustrated. She said “this makes me
angry” because the translations were so poor she couldn’t follow along and felt
all of the research, participants wanted, liked, and used a table of contents
when one was available. Voters want a roadmap to the voter guide and the
elections process. They relied heavily on visual cues and the typography. The
layout and visual presentation greatly influences whether the voter information
will be easy to read and understand.
the first round of user research, we asked participants to select pages from a
book of samples that they would want in their own voter guide. The five pages
participants chose most often all used visual layout effectively. In
particular, the candidate and ballot information should be organized in a way
that helps voters see both the overview and details. We shouldn’t let the
voters get lost in the details when there are many candidates and measures in
any given election.
we recognize many counties are limited in their flexibility of design and
layout based on what is required of them and how many pages they can afford. From
the size of font (which should be at least 12 points) to the proper inclusion
of a sample ballot, counties need the resources to provide voter guides that
will effectively inspire and educate voters to participate in our elections.
evidence from our research suggests that an official voter guide is an
information device, not an engagement device. However, it may be the only source
of voter information that many people see and should be used as a tool for
civic literacy, especially recognizing that they may be a recent immigrant or
someone who did not graduate from high school and attend college and may not be
familiar with the election process. The voter guide can be a tipping point,
particularly for those who may see it from a family member or friend, if people
can be encouraged to take the first step and read it. A young potential voter
stated, “This is stuff I hadn’t thought about or paid much attention to…voter
rights, measures. I might try to do more research. More interested in voting
the interviews, we found that new and infrequent voters didn’t know where to
start. Until people start to make sense of why they want to participate, the
details can be confusing. It takes a lot of energy and desire to take the
information apart, and voters sometimes need more than even the best guide can
deliver. Participant after participant in the research stumbled over aspects of
elections from terminology to a basic understanding of the process. It was
clear they needed personalized information to help guide them through the
election. For example, making the availability of languages visible in all
versions of the voter guide and a voter’s polling place information clearly
was also a challenge to learn about and compare candidates and how ballot
measures will affect them. It is important to use the structure and content of the
voter guide to close civic literacy gaps. One of the most helpful tips we can
provide is to ensure the voter information has been tested with low-literacy
and limited English proficiency voters so it meets their needs.
hope that using our recommendations will lead to voter information that raises
voter confidence and increase participation. Fortunately, some of these ideas
are already being implemented in one or more California counties. However, some
of these recommendations face regulatory, legislative, or financial barriers.
We look forward to partnering with you to identify these barriers and make the
necessary changes to better serve California’s current and future voters.