09/24/2013 by Alexandra Bjerg
Registering to vote critical for California’s democracy
Listen up, California’s 8.2 million unregistered voters, I’ve got another message for you: Happy National Voter Registration Day! No, you don’t get the day off, but on this annual non-partisan holiday, all the attention is on you.
In an effort to make our democracy more inclusive, volunteers, celebrities, and civic organizations are hitting the streets across all 50 states to register voters. Given the state’s abysmal registration numbers, California could use all the help it can get to lengthen voter rolls.
Thanks to California’s award winning Online Voter Registration system (COVR), it’s never been easier or more convenient to sign up. In fact, more than 900,000 Californians used the system which celebrated its first birthday last week. According to Secretary of State Debra Bowen, four of every ten new registrants since COVR launched opted to go paperless.
Yet despite these great gains, more than a third of eligible California voters still aren’t registered. To put it another way, California’s potential voter population is significantly larger than the entire population of Arizona (!).
That’s disheartening to say the least.
A bill recently signed by the Governor expands registration opportunities. In an effort to encourage citizens who come in contact with a government agency to register to vote, starting next year all states websites will be required to include a link on the homepage directing visitors to the Secretary of State’s online voter registration portal.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s decision to designate the state’s Health Benefit Exchange, Covered California, as a voter registration agency under the National Voters Registration Act significantly reduces barriers to access to a broader part of the electorate. Given that an estimated 6 million Californians are eligible to enroll in a health plan through Covered California, California’s voter registration rolls are predicted to become longer, more diverse and robust.
If you don’t register, you can’t vote. And if you don’t vote, you have little say in the policy decisions that impact your daily lives.
Millions of people will make their voice heard through the ballot box this year. Will you?
Although the hubbub surrounding presidential and gubernatorial elections is noticeably lacking in odd-numbered years, hundreds of elections are being held this year all throughout the state. In fact, Los Angeles County is holding yet another special election today to fill a vacant seat in AD 52. As a frame of reference, more than 1,500 races for local office and 172 ballot initiatives were on the ballot in 2011, the last full odd calendar year.
Off-cycle elections are no less important than hotly contested ones at the state and federal level, but unfortunately they’re often low turnout affairs. Remember that it’s the city council that will fix the pesky pothole on your street, not the president.
California must continue to expand and diversify the electorate to ensure the future health and legitimacy of our democracy by making it more robust and inclusive. For this reason, the Future of California Elections, a coalition of organizations of which California Forward is a member, is committed to removing barriers to the ballot box and improving voter participation.