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California Makes History in Mid-Term Elections

High school volunteers at the Long Beach-based Khmer Girls in Action (KGA) reached out to members of their community to go out to vote on November 6, 2018. (Men Kimseng/VOA Khmer)

Some 12.8 million of the 19.7 million California registered voters cast a vote.

Voter turnout in California reached a three-decade high during the recent midterm elections due in large part to a massive effort by grassroots campaigners, according to officials.

“The November 6 General Election was historic,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement in mid-December. “We saw record voter registration and record voter turnout. Turnout was the highest for any midterm General Election since 1982.”

Some 12.8 million (64.5 percent) of the 19.7 million California registered voters cast a vote.

This is largely a result of the state’s new laws aimed at expanding access to the ballot box, including California Motor Voter, the Voter’s Choice Act, and conditional voter registration.

Contributions from grassroots civil society groups like Long Beach-based Khmer Girls in Action (KGA) also had an impact, community groups say. The group employed high-school volunteers to promote election awareness and encourage first-time voters to register and vote.

Late afternoon on elections day these young volunteers were still making phone calls to their peers and family members, urging them to go out to vote in the last push to push for higher voter turnout, especially among millennial voters, whom they see are being left out of major decision-making processes.

“I am considered a millennial voter and what we know about millennial voters is that the law and policy affect millennial voters’ lives every single day, but they aren’t being reached,” said Amy Leang Horn, a community organizer at KGA.

Amy Leang Horn, Community Organizer
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The KGA civic engagement program has been running over 10 years and aims at making different conversations and how to include millennial voters into the voting process, she said.

The group started with eight youths and last Fall brought on 15 canvassers to be a part of their campaign. Through this canvassing experience, they learned leadership and how to understand the political landscape.

“So through our campaign, through our civic engagement having young folks and those who are impacted by the law and policy being a part of civically engaged [group] allowed young folks to turn out to vote also and see that when they see us turning out they also see within themselves,” Leang Horn added.

KGA made phone calls and contacted over 5,000 voters for the mid-term election.

“That’s an increase from what we have been able to do in the past,” said Sheila Nem Sy, another organizer. “We know that because of what’s going on at the national stage, it’s just kind of a renew a sense of interest in the elections, especially among young people.”

Sheila Nem Sy, Economic Justice Director
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Many issues were on the ballot in the Fall, including gas taxes, affordable housing for veterans and the homeless, property tax transfers, and children’s hospital bonds.

“So this Fall we’re focusing on the issues of affordable housing, workers’ rights, and women’s rights,” said Nem Sy. “And we are doing education across the board, but really also lifting up these specific issues that directly impact our youth and their families.”

Building on a new record that the state achieved in this election, Padilla is preparing for more.

“We look forward to continuing this growth into March 3, 2020, California Presidential Primary Election, which is just 14 months away.”