Election Day

 CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Proposed Objectives

These objectives are subject to ongoing input from, and ratification by, our members. Finalized objectives will be substantiated by accompanying policy proposals in our upcoming Policy Agenda.

Ensure election security of California elections

Protect access to and encourage informed voting

Commit to robust public sector accountability

Context

With purposeful statewide leadership, the goal of assuring every person access to the California Dream is achievable.

For this transformation to become the new normal however, irrespective of future fluctuations in the economy, demographics and zeitgeist, Californians statewide must participate in embedding this vision in our shared identity and future. This will require that all Californians, regardless of region, income, race, or age, be informed and politically engaged. Government at all levels must be wired for ethical and fiscal accountability and reflect these principles in its conduct. And it will depend on our collective ability to listen to all views, respect different opinions, and come together to find mutually acceptable and publicly beneficial solutions, especially when it’s hardest.

California has among the best voter access laws in the country. Californians can register online, vote by mail, and access voting materials in a variety of languages. The state is moving to automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration, and testing the use of Vote Centers to further improve voter access.
1 Despite these advancements however, Latinos, Asian Americans, and young people continue to vote at dramatically lower rates than their proportion of the population, which denies government important guidance from key segments of our population.2 Additionally, further action is needed to ensure the integrity and security of election administration and results, and election security experts have identified steps that Californians can and should pursue immediately. These include using open source elections software and supporting all county elections offices in complying with cutting-edge cybersecurity standards.

Mere access to voting is often viewed as a proxy for the presence of democratic process. In reality, making the most of this act requires an abundance of accurate, relevant information, which depends upon impartial, consistent and trusted journalism both locally and statewide (and nationally too). Widespread access to this resource is also essential for public sector effectiveness and accountability, and the public’s sharing of facts and ideas in ways that can help solve the thorniest problems. Meanwhile, much of this journalism, especially locally, is atrophying and in some places has already disappeared, and how it is financed and accessed is currently more or less up for grabs not just in California but globally. What happens next will have deep implications for the future course of our democracy, society and economy; preserving high quality, reliable and accessible sources of news and analysis should be viewed as nonnegotiable.

Perhaps the posterchild of poor government accountability to the public is the long term management of the public employee pensions and retiree health benefits upon which millions of California’s public employees, including teachers,
3 depend for their retirement years. Many public pension managers in California for decades have been making investments and assumptions about projected returns widely viewed by independent actuaries as unrealistic, and pushing out the dates of when the biggest payments will come due to Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Voters and taxpayers have been kept in the dark, while the problem has gotten progressively worse, affecting all state and local public employees. The result is an unfunded obligation, for which CA taxpayers are responsible, of somewhere between $308.5 billion and $1.05 trillion dollars.4 

How is this relevant to economic security? School retirement spending is crowding out other school expenses, forcing layoffs and underpaid teachers, despite record revenues.5
 Greater transparency would show funds raised by state and local ballot measures, ostensibly for a range of valued public services, are being used to offset ballooning pension obligations.6 Californians should also brace for impact: at the next economic downturn, city and school district bankruptcies are expected to increase,7 resulting in further cuts to retirement payments and healthcare as well as other local services and programs that can’t be funded alongside current mandatory public pension spending.8 Accomplishing the changes described throughout this document will require trust and confidence in our state and local governments to manage public funds responsibly for current and future generations, and an honest accounting of our pensions obligations along with a plan to reform the governance of these plans so that going forward they are solvent, portable, and equitable both regionally and generationally,9 would be a powerful step in the right direction.

Cars may have the potential to be self-driving, but Democracies do not. The public entrusts elected officials and civil servants to staff our government day to day, ideally bringing valuable expertise and wisdom to the work, but in the long run “we, the people” must inform and guide it. Policy makers should be expected to provide evidence of efficacy and accountability, and the public must indicate we are watching, and care about results. It’s up to elected officials and civil servants to design systems that produce meaningful input, and to voters and taxpayers to insist upon realistic opportunities to do so, and participate as best we can.  Civic education that teaches Californians how to join this conversation productively should start early and repeat often so every generation is prepared to take the wheel when their time comes
.

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[1] https://voterschoice.org/

 

[3] https://www.ppic.org/publication/public-pensions-in-california/

 

[4] https://www.pensiontracker.org/

 

[5] https://medium.com/@DavidGCrane/the-verdict-on-prop-30-part-i-472d52e4a90

 

[6] https://www.marinij.com/2019/12/08/dan-walters-its-a-bait-and-switch-on-the-states-public-pensions/

 

[7] Vallejo (’08), San Bernardino (’12), and Stockton (‘14) have already gone bankrupt.  Stockton employees lost retiree health care in 2012. Loyalton employees had their pensions cut in 2017.

 

[8] https://calmatters.org/commentary/californias-pension-debt-cannot-be-ignored/

 

[9] According to SIEPR data, CA public pension debt was $1.052 trillion in 2017, the last year of complete data.