California Millennial voter registration up, but is it enough?

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

Young voters in the Bay Area show their readiness to participate in the democratic process (photo: League of Young Voters/Flickr)

Voter registration is up among young Californians, but the increase is not enough to close the age gap among registered voters. The number of 18 to 24 year old Californians registering to vote increased between 2002 and 2010, but these young voters remain underrepresented as a proportion of California’s electorate, according to a new study released last week by the University of California, Davis. 

During this eight year period, almost 320,000 young people registered to vote statewide, which is an increase of more than 25 percent. Voter registration for the general population rose just 13.7 percent during the same time frame.

Despite these great gains, only half (49.4 percent) of eligible young voters were registered to vote in 2010 compared to three-quarters (77.5 percent) of the overall electorate. The study found that in order to reach parity with the average registration rate statewide, an additional 890,000 young adults would need to register to vote. 

The study also found disparities in the geographic distribution of young registered voters. The Sacramento region and Bay Area topped the list with the highest level of youth registration rates. The regions with the lowest voter registration rates for young adults (North State and San Joaquin Valley) also have the state’s highest poverty level in addition to some of highest dropout rates and lowest college going rates. 

“There has been tremendous growth in the size of the youth electorate, and this is the good news,” said Mindy Romero, author of the study, in a statement. “But their registration numbers are still significantly lower than the general population, and it is clear that areas with the fewest resources for youth, such as jobs and educational opportunities, have the worst youth voter representation.”

Recent reforms such as the launch of online voter registration and the passage of election day voter registration are predicted to have a dramatic impact on youth turnout. Both make voting more accessible by removing barriers to youth registration, potentially leading to an increase in youth participation rates. But will it be enough?

California Forward believes that a vibrant and truly representative democracy depends largely upon full participation of young people in the electoral process. Young people, who have been hit hardest by the economic crisis with skyrocketing tuition rates and an unemployment rate higher than the national average, must take a more active role in the political process in order to create the change they wish to see in their communities and across the state. 

Unfortunately, as the situation in California currently stands, according to Romero, “youth that have the most need have the smallest voice in the decisions that affect their lives and their communities.” 

You still have time to register to vote in the November election, California’s voter registration deadline is October 22. Register now. 


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg