2014 California Voter Turnout On Track to Surpass National Average

With the November election a few weeks removed, voter turnout statistics have poured in from around the country. While projected to be significantly below the national average, voter turnout in California for the 2014 midterms may end up surpassing the national average once all ballots are counted.

The numbers may fluctuate over the next few weeks, but as of November 18, 40.3 percent of California voters voted in the November election compared to a reported national average of 36.4 percent (California’s final numbers will be released by mid-December). Numerous factors influence voter turnout, including demographics, ballot measures, and the electoral process. Another factor that can have a big impact are the laws governing how people vote.

On the high end of the spectrum, Maine had a voter turnout of almost 60 percent. On the other end of the scale, Indiana’s voter turnout hovers around 28 percent.

Maine arguably has some of the most voter-friendly election laws in the nation. The state does not require voters to show a photo ID and voters may cast an absentee ballot without giving an explanation to the state. And, Maine offers same-day registration: if a person is in line by 8 p.m. on election night they can still register and vote.

Furthermore, voters cannot be turned away from the polls. Even if a voter does not have proof of where they live, they can cast a challenged ballot and may be asked to show proof of ID after the election.

Looking to Indiana’s voting laws, they are not as expansive as those in Maine. Indiana requires voters to show photo ID to cast their ballots. Furthermore, the state does not offer same-day registration. However, Indiana has implemented online voter registration to increase access to registration: people must register within 28 days of the election.

In Indiana, there are more restrictions on absentee voting than in Maine. Voters must prove they meet one of nine criteria in order to qualify for an absentee ballot and a request must be filed at least 8 days before the election. Both Indiana and Maine have early voting as well.

In 2010, Californians successfully voted to change their electoral process to a nonpartisan, top-two primary system. Under this system, all candidates and voters participate on a single ballot in the primary and the top two vote-getters in each race move on to the general election. Critics of the system claimed it would discourage participation in November because it limits the number of candidates on the general ballot to two — both of whom could be from the same party.

Voters also approved an independent redistricting commission in 2008 for state electoral districts and expanded its authority in 2010 to include congressional districts. Both the primary and redistricting reforms have resulted in an increase in competitive elections in California as less districts are considered “safe” seats for the incumbent. Historically, there is a correlation between competitive races and higher voter turnout.

Californians can look forward to same-day registration starting in 2016, although in the 2014 November election Californians were required to register at least 15 days before the election.

Similar to Indiana, California also offers online registration. Also, any California voter, like voters in Maine, can request an absentee ballot. Californians can also enjoy early voting, which is dictated by the counties (the average is about 21 days prior to the election). In most instances, Californians are not required to show identification at polling places, but in certain cases voters may be asked to show proof of identification.

While a direct causation cannot be inferred from the election laws of these three states, their voting requirements offer a valuable insight into the correlation between strict voting laws and low voter turnout. Obviously, there are many other factors at play, such as historical trends in midterm voting and media coverage. However, the case can be made that more accommodating voting election laws may boost voter turnout.

Photo Source: AP