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A Good Week for Political Reform

April 6, 2009 - 12:09pm

From San Jose to Sacramento, efforts at political reform are taking off.  On Thursday night, the Santa Clara County Democrats gave thumbs-up to two Instant Runoff Voting resolutions.  Since the Dems are the county's overwhelmingly predominant political party, this is a major step forward for the use of IRV in the South Bay.

The two resolutions call for using IRV for elections in Santa Clara County and in San Jose, the county's largest city.  County voters long ago approved a charter amendment allowing the use of IRV; now it's up to the Board of Supervisors to do their part and act on the will of the voters.  The Dems' first resolution "urges the Board of Supervisors to authorize the use of Instant Runoff Voting for county elections."

Before San Jose can use IRV it must also change its charter.  That's why the Dems' second resolution urges the city council "to place a charter amendment before city voters that replaces San Jose's unnecessary and expensive two round runoff elections with instant runoff voting."

While there are obviously a number of ducks that need to be lined up before either San Jose or Santa Clara County start using IRV, the adoption of these two resolutions by the county's predominant political party, along with the support of good government groups like the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, greatly enhances the prospects for IRV in the South Bay.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday in Sacramento, two bills designed to increase the number of Californians who are registered to vote, AB 30 and AB 106, were approved by the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting by a solid 5-1 vote. If passed, the bills would make great strides in bringing California closer to 100 percent voter registration.

"Voter registration is the very heart of the democratic process and these two bills have the potential to add millions of Californians to the voter rolls," said Steven Hill, Director of New America's Political Reform Program.  Approximately 7 million Californians who are eligible to vote are not currently registered.

AB 106 would make registration "automatic"-any person who fills out a form for the DMV or a state income tax form would automatically be registered to vote (with an opt-out for those who do not wish to be registered).  AB 30 will create an option for high school students who are 16 years or older to pre-register to vote (sometimes known as "advance" registration).  When these students turn 18, their registration will become active.  AB 30 would allow young people to be involved in the democratic process at an earlier age and make it more likely that they will remain engaged as they become adults.

These two bills are based on signature ideas from the New America Foundation's Political Reform Program. Research shows that registration is one of the largest barriers to voting. Citizens often become energized by candidates or issue campaigns in the last weeks of an election only to find they are not registered to vote or are not registered at their current addresses. Automatic registration would lower this barrier.

A wide spectrum of organizations testified in support of AB 30 and AB 106, including Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, CalPIRG, AARP and Californians for Electoral Reform, in addition to the New America Foundation. San Mateo County Registrar of Voters, Warren Slocum, also testified in support of AB 30, as did a representative from the office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen.