Today is the last day to register to vote before the June primary!
For decades, PIRG has sponsored legislation to widen voter participation. Our sister organization CoPIRG drove one of the first “motor voter” registration campaigns in the country in Colorado in 1984, and CALPIRG (alongside our sister state PIRGs) helped lead the charge for a federal Motor Voter Law in 1993. Three years ago, CALPIRG worked with Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and many other advocates to update California’s commitment to that federal law.
Now, voter registration rates in California are the highest they’ve been in 64 years, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. 75 percent of eligible Californians – 18,854,829 as of April 5th – are registered to vote before the June primary.
That’s great news for our democracy, and while the current political climate has certainly driven interest, those high rates would not have been possible without California’s landmark policies to remove unnecessary barriers to the ballot, combined with regular, sustained outreach from community groups to help register and turnout new voters.
One of the biggest changes to date was the implementation of online voter registration in 2012. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla actively partnered with groups like Rock the Vote to help promote online voter registration. When Facebook reminded its users to register to vote in October 2016, 123,279 Californians registered to vote online in a single day. And because state agencies like Covered California were required to build online voter registration into their communications with the people they serve, registration rates soared even higher.
Projects like California Students Vote have helped drive partnerships between the Secretary of State, California’s major college and university systems, and civic engagement groups including CALPIRG, to make sure students are given ample opportunities to register, vote, and be educated on what’s on their ballot.
And for those who aren’t 18, in 2016 California starting allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote – thanks to laws authored by Assemblymember Curren Price and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and backed by CALPIRG. More than 100,000 young adults have already pre-registered. Our 2016 report with NALEO Educational Fund and Frontier Group, Path to the Polls, details other steps California can take to ensure every eligible 18-year-old is signed up to vote.
And more changes are on the horizon this year:
The New Motor Voter Act is just starting to capture even more eligible voters, by automatically registering Californians to vote (unless they opt-out) when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles to get an official state ID or driver’s license.
For the first time in a statewide election, same day registration is now available in at least one location in every county.
California’s Voter’s Choice Act, which is launching in five counties this year, creates one-stop “voting centers” that are open weeks before an election that will allow eligible voters—no matter their precinct—to update their information, register, and vote, giving voters even more options.
It’s promising news for our democracy to have so many more eligible voters on the voter rolls and receiving information about the upcoming election. But this historic uptick in registration rates, while promising, doesn’t mean we should expect similarly high voter turnout, especially since so many voters are new to the process. It’s up to all of us to foster a culture of voting, to ensure that everyone registered exercises their right to vote on Election Day this year and for the rest of their lives.
Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network
Emily is the senior director for state organizations for The Public Interest Network. She works nationwide with the state group directors for PIRG and Environment America to help them build stronger organizations and achieve greater success. Emily was the executive director for CALPIRG from 2009-2021, overseeing a myriad of CALPIRG campaigns to protect public health, protect consumers in the marketplace, and promote a robust democracy. Emily works in our Oakland, California, office, and loves camping, hiking, gardening and cooking with her family.