My View: Online Voting Resolution May Change Outcome of Several State Elections


About 20 years ago when the US Congress passed the Motor Voter Law, I recall a friend of mine, a political consultant, telling me how this law would change the political dynamics in this country.  It did not – however, perhaps my friend was merely ahead of his time.

When Governor Jerry Brown signed into law six weeks ago a bill that would enable online voter registration, no one I think realized how big an impact it would have.  Earlier this week, the LA Times reported that the number of registered voters in California surged to record levels, passing for the first time the 18 million mark.

The Times reports that 1.4 million new voters have signed up and more than half of them have signed up in the last six weeks online.

Not only that that, but the Times reports, “They tend to be younger and more left-leaning than the state’s general voting population, according to Political Data Inc., a bipartisan firm that analyzed county reports.”

After September 7, the breakdown was 48 percent Democrat, 19 percent Republican, and 33 percent decline to state.  Prior to September 7, the breakdown was 43-30-27.

Writes the LA Times, “That gives Democrats, who already dominate state politics, a big boost; they outnumber Republicans among the new voters by more than 2 to 1. The highest number of registered voters until now was 17.3 million, in February 2009.”

The bill was authored by Senator Leland Yee.

“California now has over 18 million voters – the highest in our state’s history,” said Senator Yee in a release yesterday. “I am thrilled to see so many Californians participating in our democracy. While other states tried to suppress the vote, we dramatically increased our voter rolls. The success of online registrations has been a tremendous boost to young people and first time voters.”

“The increase in registration is having a direct impact on campaigns with many legislative and congressional districts finding 10 percent or more surges in registered voters,” the senator’s press release said.  “This could prove to be a swing vote that is not currently detected by polling. The increased number of younger voters could also prove pivotal in tight ballot measure campaigns that are relying on support from younger residents.”

One of the key questions is whether they will vote.

“Because these citizens took the affirmative step to register versus simply filling out a form from a paid registration gatherer, I am hopeful that these new voters will have a significant turnout in November,” said Senator Yee. “This election affects everyone and it will have a major impact on our schools, public safety, environment, economy, and jobs.”

While the Presidential Election is not in the balance in California,with polling showing President Barack Obama safely ahead, the key elections are some state propositions and some critical Congressional Races.

A week ago, Proposition 30 appeared to be dead.  But polling this week, not taking into account new voters who would seem more likely to support the measure, shows while the Proposition is still under 50%, it is no longer trending downward and it maintains a 10 point lead, 48 to 38 percent.

The 14 percent undecided is high, but almost all of that would have to break against the measure.  That seems unlikely.

“If there was some reason to believe that this thing was sinking, you should have seen it over the course of the two weeks we were interviewing,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “It seems to be treading water. … All they need are two or three percentage points, and there’s certainly a sufficient number of undecideds from which to get that.”

Moreover, there is reason to believe that undecideds may break toward the measure as they assess the impact of the cuts to K-12 and higher education.

Polling this week by the Field Poll shows that Prop 32 is trailing by a wide 16 point margin, with 50 percent opposed and only 34 percent in favor.  That’s more than twice the deficit that polled in mid-September.  Proposition 32 would ban some political contributions, but is widely regarded as having a larger impact on Democratic fundraising than Republican fundraising.

We reported yesterday on the surge of Proposition 34, which should only be helped with the influx of new voters.

Proposition 36 is passing by a huge margin and appears safe – that’s the three strikes reform.

Proposition 37 remains ahead, despite massive spending by the opposition – $45 million.

However, while the voter surge may be the final push to pass Propositions 30 and 34, most of these propositions were trending in this direction even without changes to voter composition.

The biggest impact may be in several close house races that some now believe may decide ultimately who controls Congress.

Writes the LA Times, “The fresh registrants also could tip the balance in congressional races where Democrats hope to make gains in their uphill battle to retake control of the House; in more than a dozen House districts, Democratic registration rose slightly.”

Currently, here in Yolo County, John Garamendi is locked in a heated battle with Kim Vann; up the I-80 corridor you have Dan Lungren facing Ami Bera for the second time.

Roll Call rates six congressional races in California as toss ups: in addition to the Lungren-Bera battle, Democrat Jerry McNerney is in a toss-up race in the 9th District, Republican Jeff Denham in the 10th, Democrat Lois Capps in the 24th, the 26th is an open seat held by departing incumbent David Dreier, and the 36th is held by Republican Mary Bono Mack.

The other impact may be to help Democrats who are seeking two-thirds majorities in the Senate and Assembly that would be required to raise taxes.

The key question is whether these new voters will make an impact.  Not surprisingly, the answer depends on whom you ask.

“GOP officials had anticipated the Democratic uptick and were working to blunt its effect by scrambling to register more Republicans. They say some new GOP voters are not reflected in the Political Data report,” the LA Times reports.

“We will figure out whether it makes a material difference on election day,” said Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), minority leader in the state senate.

Meanwhile, the Republicans remain ever fearful of voter fraud – despite little to corroborate their fears.

“While other states created illegitimate ways to suppress the vote, we found ways to increase the voter rolls,” Senator Yee loves to exclaim.

The LA Times reports, “Republicans expressed doubt that the online system had effectively rooted out people not eligible to vote.”

“There are not enough safeguards to prove that someone’s online identity matches their true identity,” said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare.

Meantime, in two years, thanks to a similar bill that Governor Brown signed, Californians will be allowed to register to vote on election day.

The real question is twofold: whether these new voters will matter and, secondly, whether other states will follow California’s lead here.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Michael Harrington

    Giving potential voters a reliable and easy way to register is a good thing.

    Our trusty Freddie Oakley, Yolo elections officer, was spotted going up and down the political table line in the dawn hours this morning at the Farmers Market, giving the political tablers handouts to remind people that they could early vote today, directly behind them at the Davis Community Church early polling station. Way to go, Freddie!

    Good article, David, that pulled together information about online registration and potential effects on outcomes.

  2. Frankly

    Anything that helps Democrats retain responsibility for this State’s fiscal mess is okay by me. Conservatives and Republicans have given up on the left coast except for the local politics of rural areas. Unfortunately this continued political dominance from state Democrats includes the high probability they will perpetuate California’s downward slide resulting from a lack of fiscal discipline and hostility against business and enterprise.

  3. hpierce

    So, Jeff.. it appears that it is more important to have a scapegoat, than to work to anything positive (or, maybe, even a solution)… that is so PARTISAN… a curse upon both major parties…

  4. hpierce

    PSA: Please vote Tuesday… if you are eligible, and don’t, please refrain from complaining about voting outcomes until the next election.

    Jeff Hudson has an incorrect piece in today’s paper (Emptyprize). He is correct that if you are a VBM voter (formerly known as “absentee”), it is too late to mail your ballot and be assured it will arrive in time for it to be counted… ballots have to be in the physical possession of Elections by poll closing time on Tuesday… postmarks DO NOT COUNT (and neither will your vote, if it gets delivered after Tuesday). Where he erred is telling VBM folks to drop off their voted ballot AT THEIR PRECINCT. Although you may certainly do so, the FACT is that you can drop your voted ballot AT ANY POLLING PLACE IN YOLO COUNTY. If you work in another county, and drop it of there, you HAVE NOT VOTED. [End of PSA]

  5. Frankly

    [i]”So, Jeff.. it appears that it is more important to have a scapegoat, than to work to anything positive (or, maybe, even a solution)… that is so PARTISAN… a curse upon both major parties…”[/i]

    hpierce, that problem is Obama’s. There is nothing “healing” about an Obama win. He has not reached out to me. He has not attempted to undestand my interests and concerns. He has continued to attack me and demoize me and my ideas. Why would I be magically transported to have love and respect for this man that hasn’t lifted a finger to earn my trust?

    It is up to Obama, not me… not the millions of people like me that do not agree at all with the direction he is trying to take the country.

    I want what is best for the country.

    I think rejecting and blocking a polarizing and failed President is what is best for the country.

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