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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 flyer with event details and photos.
Click here to view the 2021 series.

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

We are pleased to announce California on the Ballot Season Two! Join us for five free, online programs from May to September 2022. Our theme this year is barriers to voting – what barriers have defined the voter experience in California history? How has California worked to increase voter access? What work is left to do? We’ll talk with groups whose relationship to the ballot has a complicated history, including DACA recipients, incarcerated citizens, and Indigenous communities across California.  

Voting Rights for Incarcerated Californians | Wednesday, July 20, 11 amRegister 

In November 2020, California voted to refranchise 50,000 parolees under Prop 17, sparking a broader conversation about voting rights for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated citizens. What is the situation today? How has this question been discussed throughout state history? 

Voting Rights for DACA Recipients – Ten Years In| Thursday, August 11, 4 pmRegister  

California is home to 183,000 DACA recipients and nearly 1 in 4 Californians is foreign born. What civic powers do DACA status holders have in California? How is voter access offered at the local, state and federal levels? On its tenth anniversary, what is the legacy of this landmark program? 

Voting Rights for Indigenous Populations | Wednesday, September 28, 4 pmRegister 

Despite rights granted by the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, many native people remain excluded from democratic processes. We explore the barriers facing native voters and seekers of public office, including landmark legal battles, literacy laws, and voter ID requirements. How do other countries govern alongside their Indigenous populations? 


Past Events


Equity at the Polls: Voter Access in California Elections 

Since 1960, California has greatly improved its voter registration process. Ballots are now mail-in, multilingual, and registration is available up to election day. Why then do California elections not fully reflect the diversity of the state? What tactics can increase – and sustain – voter engagement? Recorded April 2022.

Speakers: Alisa Belinkoff-Katz, Kristin Nimmers, Lori Pesante 

After the Vote: Recall Elections in California 

Experts unpack California’s use of recall elections, with an eye to the uncertain future of this electoral tool. Recorded October 2021.

Speakers: Carla Marinucci, Seems Mehta, Dan Schnur 

California Youth and the Ballot: What Will 2040 Look Like? 

What are young people doing now to address the issues they care about? What future do they want to build when they come of voting age? Recorded April 2021.

Speakers: Danielle Thompson, JaNell Gore, Samuel Getachew, Joaquin Alvarado

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? Recorded April 2021.

Speakers: Ray Briggs, Megan Garvey, Reyna Olaguez, Tasmeen Raja, Sarah Stierch

California Dreamin’: How Do Social Movements Reimagine California?

Explore the Red Power movement, the occupation of Alcatraz Island, and its lasting influence on Native American legislation, California, and subsequent social movements. Recorded March 2021.

Speakers: Kent Blansett, William Deverell 

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. Recorded March 2021.

Speakers: Jane Junn, Eric McGhee, Francisco Pedraza, Shakirah Simley, Dr. Veronica Terriquez

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. Recorded February 2021.

Speakers: Angela Brinskele, Frances Kaplan, Sean Dickerson, Tamara Martin, Xaviera Flores

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 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? Recorded January 2021.

Speakers: Sonja Diaz, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Mindy Romero, Dan Schnur 

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. Recorded October 2020.

Speakers: Jason Cohn, Rachael Myrow, Joe Mathews, Raphael Sonenshein

For more information on these events, please write to Kirsten Vega at kvega@calhum.org.

Download the Press Release

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.   

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation