California is the most recent state to push the electoral process into the digital age. Unlike Pennsylvania, where voters must show a photo ID upon registration, California voters can now register online.
The online registration application, accessible through the Secretary of State’s website, sos.ca.gov, was proposed by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), and became law in October 2011. The online tool was launched Sept. 19.
Nicole Winger, the Communications Director for the Secretary of State said that the online voter registration system is designed for younger voters who are 18–29 years old and is intended to be as convenient as possible.
“The youth vote is extremely important,” said Kelsey Grimsley, the Chapter Chair Organizer for the California Public Research Interest Group (CALPIRG) at UC Santa Cruz. “It is essential to increasing voter turnout for either party. The online voter registration will make a huge step in translating registration into voting. If you registered to vote, it is more likely that you will vote on election day.”
Winger explained exactly how the online system works in California.
“The online registration application is not automatic voter registration,” Winger said. “The information a person provides in the application still must be verified by a county elections official. If you have a California driver license or identification card and submit an online voter registration application, the California Department of Motor Vehicles is simply sharing a copy of your signature on file so that it can be transferred to your voter registration application.”
As of four weeks before the election, the online voter registration system for California has been a success.
Santa Cruz County clerk Gail Pellerin said that since Sept. 19, about 600 Santa Cruz voters have successfully registered online. Winger said that approximately 110,000 people have used the online voter registration application to register to vote or to update their existing voter records.
Once the application is complete, the link can be emailed to other friends or family members so they can register or re-register as well. At the National Voter Registration Day event at the Quarry Plaza on Sept. 25, where CALPIRG organizers provided voter information and help accessing the online registration system, Pellerin, who has a 17-year-old son, said she wished California had online voter registration much earlier.
“Right now everything is online that millions of people use: Facebook, online news,” Pellerin said. “Having registration online makes sense because you can reach so many more people that way, not just students or younger voters, but anyone who is busy and working.”
UCSC CALPIRG organizer Becca Loux said that the online form is not only easy but extremely precise.
“There is no margin for error on the online form. If you forget to check a mandatory box or fill out required information, you simply can’t advance the page,” Loux said. “This will increase the number of valid registrations.”
Grimsley said it is important to capture the youth vote through online registration because there are important ballot measures this election season that will seriously impact students.
She connected the accessibility of the online voter registration with the passage of Proposition 30, proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. If passed by a majority vote it would provide state revenue for K-12 and higher education ranging from $5.4 to $7.6 billion per year, from 2013–18, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Department of Finance. If Prop. 30 does not pass on Nov. 6, the University of California will see a $250 million cut in funding.
“Prop. 30 will determine future funding for higher education (for the next seven years),” Grimsley said. “If it doesn’t pass we will face unprecedented budget cuts. It is critical to vote in this election specifically because of the measures on the ballot that will determine education.”