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California on the Ballot

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About California on the Ballot

In the political experiment that is the American republic, California may be the most visible laboratory. What does the electoral history of a state often considered to be the seat of the nation’s social, technological, and cultural innovation have to tell us about the future of American democracy, and its complex past?

Our state’s variety of cultures, languages, and opinions yields a nearly infinite variety of possibilities for civic engagement. From writing poetry to running for office, from voter drives to direct actions, residents of the Golden State constantly seek new opportunities to forge a more just society—and will continue to do so as our electorate continues to diversify in the future. “The ‘California Dream’ is capacious,” Dr. William Deverell observed during recent event California Dreamin’. “It can absorb hopes and wishes beyond the conventional Gold Rush dreaming that we tend to caricature. [It] can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”

Through California on the Ballot, a statewide initiative, we invite the people of California and beyond to reflect and talk about the past, present, and future of electoral engagement in California. Scholars, artists, journalists, civil servants, and archivists offer their perspectives through Zoom panel discussions, interviews, displays of historical artifacts, film clips, and Q&A sessions with viewers.

In this free series of virtual events, we reflect on what civic engagement currently looks like in California, and what changes might soon be in store. Each discussion revolves around a key question. Read about past programs below.


A colorful poster with dates, time, and descriptions of different events along with a photo to accompany.
View the 2020 schedule of events.

California on the Ballot Resources

California on the Ballot White Paper

California on the Ballot Executive Summary Report

Resources for Further Engagement

Video Compilation of Past Programs


Upcoming Events

Stay tuned for more in Winter 2022!


Past Events



  • Thursday, April 8, 2021 at 4pm
    The Fourth Branch: Media and Democracy 
    What is non-profit news? Does journalism have a civic mission? In a landscape of social media and citizen journalism, who decides who gets to be a journalist, and what defines journalism?
  • Thursday, March 25, 2021 at 4pm                                                                                                                                               California Dreamin’: How Do Social Movements Reimagine California?
    Dr. Kent Blansett and Dr. William Deverell explore the Red Power movement, the occupation of Alcatraz Island, and its lasting influence on Native American legislation, California, and subsequent social movements.
  • Wednesday, March 10                                                                                                                                                                       The 70.8%: What Explains California’s Voter Turnout? In 2020, California had its highest voter turnout since 1952; but why? What factors into high and low voter turnout? How have watershed moments in California history affected turnout? We’ll explore what voting’s past means for California’s future.
  • Thursday, February 25                                                                                                                                                                          Show & Tell: What Can We Learn from Artifacts of California Elections?
    Take a trip back through California’s voting history in this show-and-tell led by historian Susan D. Anderson and archivists from across the state. Hear seldom-told stories of struggles for voting rights and representation, from Suffrage to Civil Rights and more.
  • January 19, 2021
    The Electoral College – What Were The Founders Thinking?
    The Electoral College is an original American model, never duplicated outside of the country. Created after lively debate in the last ten days of the five-month long Constitutional Convention of 1787, it set forth that presidents would be selected — not by popular vote — but by electors in each state. What is its legacy today, in a more populous and mature America? Watch Sonja Diaz, Karthick Ramakrishnan,Mindy Romero and moderator Dan Schnur delves into the history and future of the Electoral College.
  • October 28, 2020
    What’s the Deal With Direct Democracy? From the legality of prize fighting (1914) to the definition of marriage (2000), Californians have approved 132 ballot measures, with profound and long-lasting consequences for the state. Watch Rachael Myrow of KQED and journalist Joe Mathews of Zocalo, filmmaker Jason Cohn, director of First Angry Man and Dr. Raphael Sonenshein of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles discuss the history of California’s use of ballot initiatives. This conversation, our first in California on the Ballot series, was recorded a week before the November 2020 election.For more information, please write to Kirsten Vega at kvega@calhum.org.
Download the Press Release

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

California on the Ballot is made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of their A More Perfect Union initiative and was launched with funding from the Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.