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California on the Ballot

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  • Upcoming Events 
  • Past Events


About California on the Ballot

According to the popular saying, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” With the eyes of the country and the world upon us as leaders in innovation, social and political movements, and economic growth, we believe our state has a critical story to tell and learnings to share about civic and electoral engagement in a large and diverse state.

Through California on the Ballot, a statewide initiative, we invite the people of California and beyond to reflect and talk—with journalists, historians, election experts, and more—about the past, present, and future of electoral engagement in California.

In this free series of virtual events, we explore critical questions like:

What is the history of the California ballot initiative process?

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

What is the story behind the Electoral College, and what is California’s role in it?

Who are the disenfranchised voters in the state, and why? Who isn’t voting, and why not?

What stories about elections can we learn from a variety of California’s archives?

Did watershed moments of expanding voter exclusion – such as suffrage and civil rights – change electoral politics in California?

With a majority of social media companies in Silicon Valley, what influence does California have in election decision-making?

What will voting look like in 2040 in California?


California on the Ballot Resources

California on the Ballot White Paper

California on the Ballot Executive Summary Report

Resources for Further Engagement


Upcoming Events

  • Thursday, October 14, 4-5pm PT
  • After the Vote: Recall Elections in California 
  • On the one month anniversary of the California Gubernatorial Recall Election, join California Humanities on Zoom for a free panel discussion. In conversation with seasoned political strategist Dan Schnur, experts will unpack California’s use of recall elections, with an eye to the uncertain future of this electoral tool. Register here.


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 FoundationThis initiative is funded by 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.