This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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California Census 2020 Statewide Funders’ Initiative Final Evaluation Report

November 1, 2021

The 2020 census was among the most fraught in recent history, with threats to a fair and complete count posed by the global pandemic and the federal administration's attempt to limit the inclusion of immigrants. Fortunately, funders and other stakeholders built on the lessons of census 2010, and the California Census 2020 Statewide Funders Initiative coordinated investments with the state to maximize the number of Californians counted. This report documents learnings from the California Census 2020 Statewide Funders Initiative.

Civic Participation

Vote-by-Mail and Voter Turnout in the Pandemic Election

April 14, 2021

States across the country took extraordinary steps to increase voting by mail for the 2020 election in an effort to minimize in-person contact and virus transmission risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest such policy change involved mailing every voter a ballot by default. California took additional steps toward facilitating vote-by-mail—such as a statewide ballot tracking system and a later deadline for receiving ballots that had been postmarked by election day—and many counties in the state also adapted their options to accommodate in-person voting.California is now debating making universally mailed ballots a permanent feature of the state's elections moving forward, through AB 37. The state has already committed (through SB 29) to extending the approach through 2021, including for any gubernatorial recall election that may occur. At the same time, other US states plan to return to a version of their pre-pandemic approaches or may introduce policies to constrain voting by mail.In this report, we analyze a wide range of data to identify how recent policy decisions affected voter turnout.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation

For the Community, By the Community: The We Count LA Impact Story

February 10, 2021

Participation in the census is critical to the well-being of future generations of Los Angeles County. Census data plays an integral role in influencing the allocation of millions of dollars in federal funding for vital services and programs for our communities — from schools and hospitals to housing and roads. The census also determines the number of congressional members sent to the Capitol to represent our region, making an accurate count in Los Angeles County profoundly important.In a landmark effort, California Community Foundation (CCF) convened a powerful coalition of 115+ community-based organizations (CBOs) across the region to count historically under-counted populations, coordinated and united under one region-wide campaign: We Count LA. As trusted messengers with deep relationships and connections in their respective communities, these CBOs would be the faces and voices of the census, encouraging the diverse and vulnerable communities of Los Angeles County to participate in the 2020 Census. Amid the unforeseen global and national events of 2020, this task became seemingly impossible. Yet the unifying force of community resilience pushed the We Count LA campaign to become responsive, adaptive and innovative in trying to accomplish its goals.

Civic Participation

#PartyatthePolls Report

July 18, 2016

#PartyatthePolls was a series of events where we asked Angelenos for event ideas to improve voter engagement in the 2016 June primary election. Eight proposals received $3500 each to pilot events and improve voter turnout.

Campaigns and Elections

Civic Health in California

May 23, 2014

California is the most populous state in the union with more residents than the 21 least populous states combined. It is also one of the most diverse states. Such factors can pose a challenge to civic health, but they also make civic engagement vital to the health of the state. While civic engagement in California lags slightly behind the national average, it's not by much. The data shows that California performs above the national average in certain types of social civic engagement, particularly on indicators such as working with neighbors to fix a problem in the community, membership in school and community associations, and involvement in sport and recreation associations. The state does not compare so favorably, however, when it comes to indicators of political civic engagement such as voting in statewide elections or attending public meetings

Civic Participation

California Voter Consumption of Media on Government and Politics

August 12, 2013

The results of our recent survey of California voters shows that they maintain a robust interest in getting the information they need to make decisions about elections and public policy issues. The data show an electorate that remains an avid consumer of news about government and politics -- and is largely satisfied with the news it receives. Californians say that the news sources they use most often cover the issues that matter to them the most; are fair; are comprehensive; and reflect their views. And in the face of declining use of print media, the survey shows that voters in California are adopting digital media at a rapid pace -- with voters who use digital news saying that it is easier than ever to get news about government and politics at the state level. In addition, the survey paints a more detailed picture of the news habits of voters of color in California than has previously been obtained. Though California's communities of color largely use the same sources of news about government as do white voters -- primarily television and mainstream media journalism -- there are substantial subgroups that also get some of their news from ethnic media outlets. The emergence of younger voters of color as frequent digital media users indicates further potential for change in how news will be delivered to these constituencies. And even though California's voters of color express high levels of satisfaction in the news they consume, many have mixed feelings on whether their own community's views are well-represented in the media at large. In particular, African American and non-Chinese Asian American/Pacific Islander voters are the most likely to say that the views of their respective ethnic groups are not well represented in the media. The data also show that interest in news about government and politics and greater civic involvement go hand-in-hand; a majority of California voters reports active engagement in some facet of their community's civic life, with engagement concentrated among the most avid consumers of the news. While it is not surprising that these civically-engaged voters are also more likely follow the news, the survey also makes clear that voters see the news media they use as facilitating their participation. More than two-thirds of California voters report that the news source they use most often informs them about ways they can get involved.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation; Media

Beyond Business as Usual: Leaders of California's Civic Organizations Seek New Ways to Engage the Public in Local Governance

May 20, 2013

We asked leaders of California's civic and community-based organizations about their views on the state of public participation in local governance. The following report explores what these civic leaders say is working, what's not, and how public engagement can be improved. Traditional models for including the public in local decision making, these leaders say, fail to meet the needs of both residents and local officials. Most see significant value and potential in more inclusive and deliberative forms of engagement, and many agree local officials are making increasing efforts to include residents more meaningfully. Overall, this research suggests civic and community-based organizations are looking for newer and more effective ways to engage the public and may be ready for stronger collaborations with local government. The report also includes concrete recommendations for local officials and their institutions, civic leaders and their organizations, and foundations and other funders. The recommendations can help improve public engagement in local governance throughout California and, we hope, beyond.

Civic Participation

Testing the Waters: California's Local Officials Experiment with New Ways to Engage the Public

May 20, 2013

This report explores the attitudes of California's local officials toward public participation in local governance. These officials believe that the current models for including the public in local decision making fail to meet the needs of both residents and local officials. Most local officials seek broad-based participation from the public and want to hear more about approaches that have worked elsewhere. Many are already experimenting with more inclusive and deliberative forms of engagement. Overall, this study suggests California's local officials may be ready for newer and more effective ways to engage the public and for stronger collaborations with community-based organizations. The report also includes concrete recommendations for local officials and their institutions, civic leaders and their organizations, and foundations and other funders. The recommendations can help improve public engagement in local governance throughout California and, we hope, beyond.

Civic Participation