The California Legislature recently approved SB 72, legislation by State Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana) that will allow all eligible Californians to register to vote and cast a ballot at polling sites on Election Day. SB 72 now heads to Governor Newsom for his signature. If signed by the governor, Election Day registration would be available at all polling sites in California in 2020, making California the 12th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow Election Day registration.
“Voting is a fundamental right and a cornerstone of our democracy,” said Raúl Macías, Voting Rights Project Manager and Attorney with ACLU of California. “With SB 72, California will strengthen our democracy and make voting more accessible – because no eligible voter should ever be turned away on Election Day.”
Research shows that allowing voters to register and cast a ballot on Election Day increases voter participation and eliminates arbitrary deadlines that turn away voters at the moment of highest interest. Offering Election Day registration has also been shown to improve the accuracy of voter rolls.
“Allowing people to register and vote at the same time, in every polling place, extends California’s national leadership in voting rights,” said Dora Rose, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of California. “We thank the Legislature for eliminating unnecessary impediments to participation, putting voters first, and for its strong commitment to an inclusive democracy.”
While California has recently made significant strides to expand access to voter registration, nearly 5.3 million eligible Californians still remain unregistered. Studies show that a disproportionate number of eligible, unregistered voters are younger, lower-income, people with disabilities, people with limited English proficiency, or people of color. Making Election Day registration available at every polling site will assist the registration of geographically mobile, lower-income citizens, young voters, and voters of color.
“Making Election Day registration available statewide will help close crucial voter participation gaps and thus make our democracy more representative – a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” said Rey López-Calderón, Executive Director of California Common Cause.
Current state Election Day registration rules have created unnecessary confusion and barriers to participation for eligible and interested voters. Election Day registration is theoretically already available to Californians, but the current system has proved inaccessible for far too many people who wish to vote.
“Last year, many people in Orange County and Los Angeles County waited late into the night, and in long lines, in order to exercise their right to vote. The law at that time required voters who needed to register on Election Day to go to ‘satellite locations’ or to the Registrar of Voters office,” said Senator Thomas J. Umberg. “This bill makes it possible for same-day registration at polling places as well as satellite locations. California is catching up with so many other states by making our elections as accessible as possible. No one should have to travel long distances and wait in lines for many hours to exercise their right to vote.”
In 2018, only a tiny percentage of Californians could access Election Day registration because most counties across the state – including populous counties like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange – only offered it at a single site: the county elections office. In fact, 21.3 million (85%) of the state’s 25.2 million eligible voters lived in a county that provided Election Day registration exclusively at their county elections office in November 2018. As a result, few voters in those counties were able to take advantage of the opportunity, and those who were able to make the trip to their county elections office waited in lines of up to four hours to register and cast ballots.
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