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What would you say if we could

  • Increase turnout on election day in California by 5%
  • Increase young voter turnout in California by 9%
  • Increase Latino turnout in California by 5%
  • Make it easier in California for those who have just moved to vote

If you were a Republican, you'd say it was a socialist plot. (If you were Scott Brown you'd say it was a conspiracy involving Elizabeth Warren, her daughter and ACORN, but I digress).

Fortunately, California Republicans don't really have any say in the matter, and to the obvious delight of Democrats (and legalized marijuana advocates, to name just one cause that would potentially benefit from increased youth turnout) the above results are projected if same-day registration and voting were implemented in California. Those results come from a study done by R. Michael Alvarez of the California Institute of Technology and Jonathan Nagler from New York University.

AB 1436, passed by the California Assembly and currently awaiting action by the California Senate, would put same-day registration and voting in place (known as EDR -- Election Day Registration).

Technically, the bill would allow citizens who are not yet registered to register any time in the fifteen days prior to an election (when voter registration is otherwise suspended), and at the same time cast a provisional ballot. From the description of the bill:

This bill would establish conditional voter registration, using an affidavit of registration, whereby a person would be permitted to register to vote after the 15th day prior to an election or on election day, and cast a provisional ballot to be counted if the conditional voter registration is deemed effective.
Six states currently have election day registration, and three more states have similar procedures.  The existing effects of same-day registration are laid out in the study, and they are significant:
According to the official voting statistics reported by secretaries of state and the U.S. Census Bureau estimates of state population, EDR states had a voter turnout rate of 70.3 percent in the 2004 presidential election, while non-EDR states had a turnout rate of only 54.7 percent.

The number of states using EDR or similar procedures swelled to nine by the 2008 presidential election. Analysis of voter participation data collected and distributed by the United States Election Project has shown that participation in the nine EDR states in that election averaged 69 percent, relative to an average 62 percent participation in the non-EDR states.

So what's the catch? (There's always a catch.)

Aside from the uncertainty of the bill passing the California Senate, if the bill does become law it will not take effect immediately. In fact

The above provisions of the bill would become operative on January 1 of the year following the year in which the Secretary of State certifies that the state has a statewide voter registration database that complies with the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.
As best I can determine, such a voter registration database won't exist in California for at least couple more years, making it unlikely that same day registration and voting would be available until the 2016 election, if even then.  
Special Project Report for Statewide Voter Registration Database

...A revised schedule that projects complete deployment by June 2014 and one year of maintenance and operations that ends in May 2015...

Why has it taken so long? I have no idea. The original contract was terminated "by mutual agreement" on May 21st, 2010, and a new contract was put out for bid. You'd think that in a state that is the home to Silicon Valley and such database expertise as Oracle we could get a statewide voter registration database up before you could say "bureaucracy sucks" ten times. No such luck.

Why is the coupling provision (same day registration and voter database) in there? I talked with an aide to Assemblyperson Feuer (sponsor of the bill) and asked that specific question. I was told that the County Clerks suggested that such language be included because a) it would be easier for them to implement the proposed law once the database was in place, and b) it would be a pain-in-the-ass if the County Clerks had to put in place a system to deal with same-day registration before the database was up and running, only to have to put in place a different system one or two years later once it was.  The aide told me that the Clerks were willing to stay neutral on the bill (vs. potentially opposing it) once such language was included, and since they are the ones who would have to implement it it is important to listen to them.

Then of course there's always the need to provide the impression that voter fraud, that bugaboo of conservatives everywhere, has been corralled before letting the unwashed masses vote.

Be all this as it may, getting legislation in place to effect same-day voter registration in a state representing 12% of the US population will be a big win -- if it happens.

Right now, AB 1436 is sitting in the 'suspense file' (nevermind, you don't want to know) of the Senate Appropriations Committee. They have until tomorrow (August 16th) to move it out for consideration by the full Senate. That means calls today to the Democrats on this committee are the most important thing that can be done to help further the bill (once it does make it to the Senate floor a call to your own Senator will be appropriate).

There are seven committee members, five Democrats and two Republicans. I can't imagine any of the Republicans voting for the bill, which means we need four of the five Democrats. I have no idea if any or all of them currently support the bill.

Here are the committee Democrats' phone numbers -- call them to indicate your support for AB 1436. (And perhaps find out where they stand!) I very much doubt that this bill is getting a lot of attention -- from anyone -- and so your call could be quite significant.


Senator Christine Kehoe (Chair) -- (916) 651-4039
Senator Elaine Alquist -- (916) 651-4013
Senator Ted W. Lieu -- (916) 651-4028
Senator Curren Price -- (916) 651-4026
Senator Darrell Steinberg -- (916) 651-4006
Organizations such as the Courage Campaign, AFSCME, Democracy for America, Common Cause, the ACLU and VotoLatino are supporting this bill. You should too!

In a time when the cool thing to do is to see if your  legislature can pass an even more restrictive voter registration and voter identification law than your neighboring state, the fact that California is going the other way is significant. It's significant statewide insofar as it will even further diminish Republican chances of winning elections in the Golden State, and nationwide as a possible trend-setter to start a backlash against laws whose stated aim is voter fraud, whose result is to deny the vote to veterans, grandmothers, and minorities of all stripes, but whose hidden agenda is to make one last stand for conservative white elites against a demographic tide they cannot ultimately prevent coming ashore.

Call and tell the Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee to support AB 1436.

Senator Christine Kehoe (Chair) -- (916) 651-4039
Senator Elaine Alquist -- (916) 651-4013
Senator Ted W. Lieu -- (916) 651-4028
Senator Curren Price -- (916) 651-4026
Senator Darrell Steinberg -- (916) 651-4006

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