Last month, the State Assembly passed bills to make voter registration easier in hopes of increasing participation in elections.  Our democratic system of government cannot work well without informed and active engagement by the people, so I have supported several efforts over the years to boost voter participation, including one of the bills running through the Legislature this year that seeks to ease registration when people visit DMV.

Nevertheless, while bills to increase voter registration may be well intended to ensure that more citizens have the opportunity to vote, they ultimately fail to recognize the real reasons for low voter turnout.  Lawmakers would be wise to start addressing the root causes that lead to voter apathy and low participation in elections.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll “Building Trust in State Government,” low voter participation is a symptom of the very negative perceptions Californians have about the effectiveness, responsiveness, and efficiency of government.

Many voters have become disenfranchised, feeling their vote doesn’t matter and their advocacy on issues falls on deaf ears.

When people call their government agencies for service, they are too often ignored.  When people read the newspaper, they too often read of scandal in government instead of effectiveness.

The irony is that citizen participation in voting and civic affairs is crucial to holding government accountable and improving effectiveness. Regular communication with representatives on policy and budget issues can foster a more transparent, efficient, and honest government, so it is essential we work on policies to increase voter engagement.

If elected officials want to ensure that people show up on Election Day, they should begin by building public confidence in government.

That is why I have worked hard during my time in the Assembly to introduce and advocate for measures that will reform government – making it work for people, rather than against them.

Policies that would require a bill to be in print for three days and available to the public before being taken up for a vote, that would require legislators to share their office budgets with the taxpayers, and that would require state agencies to justify each expenditure and demonstrate effective performance and outcomes would make our system of government work better for people.

Using tax dollars wisely, delivering on policies and services that have been promised, responsibly budgeting, creating a climate for economic prosperity in all regions, fostering educational excellence and opportunity, elected officials holding themselves accountable to high standards – these are the steps it will take to earn back the public’s trust and increase voter participation.

Thomas Jefferson once said that “we do not have government by the majority – we have government by the majority who participate”.

That is why, as I speak with Californians across the state, I applaud them for taking the time to advocate for policies that will help them, their businesses, and their families thrive – even when they feel it doesn’t matter.  Because it does matter.

A compelling story based on facts from everyday life has the power to change hearts, minds and ultimately votes, so it is important to inform legislators on the experiences of people who are working so hard to make California great.

It is incumbent on each and every Californian to educate themselves on the issues, take the time to get crucial information into the hands of representatives, and vote in elections so that legislators are responsive to their constituents and have a well-rounded understanding on issues before voting.

In the meantime, advancing policies in the legislature to increase voter participation is all good and fine.  But to make a real difference, lawmakers should take a harder look at the root cause of low voter turnout and support policies that seek to earn back the trust of our constituents. Only then will we see voters turn out at the ballot box in higher numbers.

Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, of Modesto, is recognized as a solutions-focused reformer.  She represents the 12th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes portions of Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties in the Central Valley.  Follow her on Twitter:  @KristinOlsenCA