This is the first year that Californians have been able to register or re-register to vote online. And the number of people who have done so suggests that the program has been a great success thus far.
More than 780,000 people have used the state’s new online system, according to information from the election data firm Political Data Inc. More than 614,000 of those people were first-time registrants, adding to the voices eligible to vote on everything from who should run the country to what our state tax rates should be to who should represent this and other communities on their respective school boards.
This new online voter registration system is the handiwork of state Sen. Leland Yee, who authored the legislation. The state legislators who passed the legislation, and Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed it, also deserve credit for its implementation.
But while the system appears to be a success in its first year — and we stand ready to acknowledge any voter fraud that might ever appear because of it — California could do more to engage potential voters.
We certainly don’t expect there will ever be 100 percent participation in the electoral process. People don’t vote for many reasons, and many might not ever be persuaded to be part of the process, even at the local level.
But according to data from the California secretary of state, only about 77 percent of the state’s eligible voters actually register to vote. Political analysts point out that one of the largest blocs of unregistered voters is young people. More could still be done to engage them in the political process.
The availability of online registration is a great technical leap forward. But if the idea of mailing in a ballot seems quaintly antiquated to some people, sitting down at a computer and filling out a form may seem just as dated to the latest generation of potential voters. So the next logical step for California is to bring voter registration to smartphones and tablet computers through electronic signature verification. This would bring the political process to the realm where younger people can be found today.
At the same time, California also needs to expedite the Vote-Cal system. That voter database would allow officials to check — in real time — whether people were registered to vote in more than one county. Legislation to allow same-day registration has already been passed in California, but the Vote-Cal system needs to be up and running before the state can actually move forward with its same-day voter registration process.
The law currently requires people to be registered at least 15 days before an election. But in this era of instantaneous everything, the hope that an informed populace will think about its civic duties far in advance of Election Day clashes with the reality that many do not and are therefore excluded from the electoral process.
Naysayers may quibble that voting should not be undertaken by people who cannot plan in advance to take part in the process. But voting should be open to everyone. Technology already makes available systems that can open up the process to many more people. Now it only takes the political will to put them into place.