How the state Senate may tackle election policy work this year – Orange County Register

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When it comes to election policy work in the statehouse, Orange County senators play an instrumental role.

Sen. Catherine Blakespear, a Democrat who represents southern Orange County communities, stepped into the role of chair of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee this year, which considers legislation related to elections. Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Huntington Beach, serves as the committee’s vice chair with Sens. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, and Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana among its seven members.

Given that it’s an election year — and most voters in the state, no matter the political party, agree that voting in 2024 is “very important,” according to a February PPIC survey — we talked to Blakespear to get a sense of her goals for the committee, what topics she expects it to cover this year and how safe California’s election system is. Below are her answers, edited only for clarity.

On the goals of the committee

CB: My overall goals are that we have fair and accessible elections. I’m committed to enhancing confidence and building credibility in our elections.

When people lose faith in our democratic process and in our elections, we see a decline in our democracy. It’s a very important topic at the national level and also at the state level.

On questions about election security

CB: One of the things that’s really important is that we are always publicly enhancing confidence in our elections. One of the things that we see is the narrative that somehow there are a lot of fraudulent ballots or people who aren’t supposed to be voting are voting, and this really isn’t true.

Related: How does Orange County’s voting system work?

In Orange County, the district attorney has investigated every single claim of somebody voting more than once or fraudulent elections. There have been none of them with any validity to them. There are the occasional examples of somebody who has dementia and mailed in a ballot and was confused about whether they did or didn’t do that and went down to a registrar and tried to vote a second time.

But we really do not have fraud in our election system. We have a lot of safeguards.

On what issues the committee may take up this year

CB: I expect the issues that might be coming through the committee to be recall reform and various potential constitutional amendments. … And also the rise of artificial intelligence and the role these emerging technologies will have on elections.

State Sen. Catherine Blakespear, a Democrat representing the 38th District, speaks during a town hall event addressing the fentanyl crisis at the Norman P. Murray Community Center in Mission Viejo on Thursday, November 30, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)
State Sen. Catherine Blakespear, a Democrat representing the 38th District, speaks during a town hall event addressing the fentanyl crisis at the Norman P. Murray Community Center in Mission Viejo on Thursday, November 30, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)

I’m planning to do informational hearings that may take up these topics, like election security. We might look at the data from the primary election and also these questions about emerging technologies like AI.

On why voting is important

CB: It’s the why behind the vote. It’s not that you vote, it’s that voting is part of having a stake in the outcome, it’s part of being a participant.

It’s not just that it’s your civic responsibility; if you want to participate at all in what society around you looks like, voting is how you’re able to do that.

You’re choosing your representatives and you’re voting on ballot initiatives as well —and there’s profound power in that.

The “why” of voting, I feel that’s where we need to be investing our attention, and that comes back to civic education and messaging that the state does. People vote when it feels that it matters and they feel they have a stake in things. We need to have voting happen not just when someone cares about a candidate on the ballot but also because there are other things that are really important to them, too.

On how voting has changed in California, particularly post-COVID

CB: In the last few years, we’ve really reduced barriers to voting. We mail ballots to every registered voter, and it has a stamp on it. … There are these places where you can drop off your ballot and there are places you can go for early voting and you can do same-day registration.

There are all these different things that have reduced barriers to voting, but there’s always more we can do. Reaching out to registered voters does cost money, and we see that voter turnout increases as funding increases, but of course, we’re in this resource-constrained environment. There’s always more we can do, and more improvements we can make.

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On what chairing a committee means

CB: I have committee staff who work on this topic (elections), and I’m just able to influence the bills that come through on a much more direct way than when you’re just on a committee.

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