California Votes Initiative

A Good Idea


In 2006, The James Irving Foundation launched the California Votes Initiative. The initiative had three goals: (1) Improve voting rates among infrequent voters, especially those in low-income and ethnic communities in the San Joaquin Valley and the Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino; (2) Gain greater understanding about effective approaches to increasing voter turnout among these populations; and (3) Encourage increased policymaker and political candidate attentiveness to low-income and ethnic communities by demonstrating a growth in voter participation among these groups.

The initiative supported nine nonprofit organizations to provide nonpartisan voter education and outreach to infrequent voters in the said communities. Outreach strategies included door-to-door outreach, phone banking, voter forums, multilingual information provided via ethnic media and other methods.

Goal / Mission

The Initiative's goal was to increase voter participation rates among infrequent voters, particularly in low-income and ethnic communities.

Results / Accomplishments

The James Irving Foundation funded a research team to evaluate the California Votes Initiative. Results revealed that the nine nonprofit organizations contacted a total of more than 150,000 low-propensity voters directly via door-to-door visits and phone calls. In addition, organizations provided outreach to hundreds of thousands of others through indirect methods, such as direct mailings and media. Some of the more effective campaigns raised voter turnout by about seven to nine percentage points among those directly contacted. Indirect methods, however, did not produce any statistically significant differences in voter turnout.

Based on the results, The James Irvin Foundation was able to identify five best practices for significantly increasing voting rates in ethnic and low-income communities. They are: (1) Improve the impact of phone bank calling with follow-up calls to self-identified likely voters; (2) Increase canvasser effectiveness with training and supervision; (3) Increase trust and effectiveness of campaigns by using canvassers who are either from the same local neighborhood or are personally known to targeted voters; (4) Improve campaign effectiveness by visiting or calling voters within four weeks of an election; and (5) Maximize resources by using mobilization tactics that involve live, personal contact between canvassers and voters.

About this Promising Practice

Primary Contact
Melissa R. Michelson, Principal Investigator
James Irving Foundation
575 Market St., Suite 3400

San Francisco, CA 94105
Government & Politics / Elections & Voting
The James Irving Foundation
Issue Lab
Date of publication
Nov 2009
Date of implementation
For more details
Target Audience
Adults, Racial/Ethnic Minorities
Additional Audience
Infrequent Voters

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