08/27/2012 by Alexandra Bjerg
Updated: California legislature mulling election day voter registration
Californians should soon be able to register to vote on the same day as elections at their polling location (photo: Cle0patra/Flickr)
8/27 UPDATE: The Senate approved AB 1436 on Thursday by a party-line vote of 25-13, sending the bill back to the Assembly for concurrence. If approved, the bill, which initially passed out of the Assembly by 47-26 in May, would head to the Governor’s desk, who has not yet publicly taken a position on the bill.
Since we initially covered Assembly Member Mike Feuer’s (D-West Hollywood) election day voter registration (EDR) bill, it has been slowly making its way through the Senate.
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved AB 1436, which is the legislation that would allow citizens to register to vote up to and on the actual day of elections. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for a majority vote later this month.
As a reminder, the measure intends to increase voter turnout by removing the current voter registration deadline that requires Californians register to vote 15 days prior to any election. “This bill helps assure all eligible Californians will have the chance to determine who speaks for them in Washington, Sacramento and their home towns,” said Feuer in a statement.
Although voter turnout is predicted to increase for the general election, a mere 21 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot during the June 5th primary. California Forward believes that in order to have a true representative democracy we must increase the percentage of informed voters taking an active role in the electoral process.
The 10 states that already allow some form of EDR lead the country in overall voter participation.
Proponents of the bill claim that AB 1436 could allow 5 percent more eligible California voters to register and vote in the election immediately following implementation. As elections are increasingly being decided by slim margins, these additional 850,000 voters could easily swing an election.
In particular, this measure could potentially boost voter participation among students; a group notoriously difficult to mobilize. Although the 2008 presidential election saw a significant increase in voter turnout among youth, just 49 percent of young people 18-24 voted nationwide that year.
Students tend to be seasonal residents and are the most mobile group of the California population. Moving between hometown, college town, and a summer internship, all between a primary and a general election, it is no wonder students may forget to re-register, leaving them unable to vote. Extra time and added flexibility would remove barriers students potentially face when registering to vote.
Critics of EDR measures, note that this particular legislation has no organizational opposition, argue that same-day voter registration could lead to increased voter fraud. However, a number of studies released recently have found less than 500 cases of voter fraud nationwide over the last decade.
In attempt to address these concerns, an amendment was added upon passage out of the Senate Public Safety Committee increasing the fine for committing voter fraud from $25,000 to $50,000 before all penalty assessments. According to Phillip Ung of Common Cause, the $50,000 plus penalties would make the total fine closer to $90,000 to $100,000 leaving California with one of the highest penalties in the nation for committing voter fraud.
As many other states in the nation are considering stricter voting laws that could disenfranchise students, minorities and other groups, it is reassuring that the California Legislature is instead weighing a bill that would make voting easier.
This bill will not solve California’s serious problem of voter apathy, but it would certainly increase access and remove barriers to the voting booth allowing more people to participate in the electoral process.