The Search For A Better Way To Fund Elections Is On In California

Is there a way to find more consistent and sustainable funding for administering local, state and federal elections in California?

The search for those answers is underway at California Forward.

Right now, California counties are the sole entities responsible for funding and administering elections. However, how these elections are funded is varied and contentious.

Amid changing economic conditions in the last several years, funding that was once provided by state election mandate reimbursements must now be derived in other ways in order to fund election administration. What does that mean? The state adopts certain regulations for elections that counties must abide by, if reimbursed. If reimbursements are suspended, then counties are not required to comply with state mandates or must find ways of paying for the mandates in the county budget.

California Forward, with support from the James Irvine Foundation, has embarked on the Election Funding Project. It will explore election funding models nationwide and in California’s 58 counties to create a list of viable options for elections officials. These models will focus on sustainability, efficiency, and innovation, while making sure elections are adequately funded.

The project will examine state budgets, interview state and local election officials, and analyze how other states have designed funding frameworks for election administration.

Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy, and we want to ensure they remain sustainably funded
Catherine Hazelton, James Irvine Foundation
“Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy, and we want to ensure they remain sustainably funded,” said Catherine Hazelton, senior program officer at the James Irvine Foundation. “We also are inspired by the potential for innovations that could expand voter participation as a result of improved funding mechanisms.”

California Forward is a bipartisan governance improvement organization that believes stabilizing election funding is an important step toward strengthening civic engagement.

“This is the first comprehensive California study to explore county election funding models,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of California Forward. “Using data-driven analysis and working with the counties, we plan to develop a portfolio of funding options that can be considered.”

California Forward’s Director of Public Affairs, Phillip Ung, will lead the project. A report of its findings is expected to be released in early 2016. This will be followed by meaningful conversations with election administrators, civic leaders, and other stakeholders.

“In order to fix the current system of election administration funding, we need to move California beyond the debate over mandates,” said Ung. “As well as learn from what others are doing nationwide.”

“We are very pleased that California Forward is working on this critical issue,” said Vince Hall, executive director for the Future of California Elections (FoCE). “Election funding is an issue that is important to our members, and to the tenets of democracy.”

FoCE is a collaboration among election officials, civil rights organizations, and election reform advocates to examine and address the unique challenges facing California’s election system.

Editor’s note: This article, written by Ed Coghlan, originally published on CA Fwd’s blog on September 17, 2015, and has been modified slightly for publication on IVN. To learn more about CA Fwd, visit the organization’s website or follow the group on Facebook or Twitter