Governor Newsom earlier this month signed SB 72, legislation introduced by State Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana) to allow all eligible Californians to register to vote and cast a ballot at all polling sites on Election Day. California now joins 13 other states and the District of Columbia in making Election Day registration available at polling sites to voters.
“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 that provisional ballots only be cast at “vote centers” or at 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 voting centers. 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.”
“Voting is a fundamental right and a cornerstone of our democracy,” said Raul Macias 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.
“Every year, we field calls from voters across the state who are eager to cast a ballot on Election Day, but who don’t know where, how, or whether they can do it,” said Dora Rose, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of California. “We thank the Legislature for acknowledging that the status quo is failing Californians and for taking steps to make every voice heard and our democracy more inclusive.”
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 Lopez-Calderon, Executive Director of CA 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. In reality, only a tiny percentage of Californians could access this Election Day registration in 2018 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 same day registration exclusively at their county elections office on Election Day 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.
“Today cements another victory in the long-fought battle to strengthen voting rights and voter participation in California,” said Raúl Macías, Voting Rights Project Manager and Attorney with ACLU of California.
“The right to vote is a core tenet of our democracy, but for far too long, barriers to voter participation have locked too many people out of our democratic process – particularly Black and Brown, low-income, young voters, and voters with disabilities,” he added. “By making Election Day registration available at every polling site in the state, SB 72 will increase voter engagement for eligible voters who are eager to cast a vote, but who were unable to register or update their registration by the deadline.”