Online voting registration’s influence set to expand in California

150 150 Christopher Nelson

Those that registered to vote online came out in force last November. (Photo Credit: borkazoid)

As more and more data is analyzed from last November’s election, the impact of the recently-enacted Online Voter Registration (OVR) in California continues to crystallize.

Paul Mitchell of Political Data, Inc. (PDI) is one of the most respected number crunchers in the state. He’s a bit like our own Nate Silver, except he specializes in reading the tea leaves after the fact instead of making predictions beforehand.

In a recent blog post tied to the annual convening of California Democrats last weekend, Mitchell breaks down the OVR data that likely helped secure Dems their current supermajority.

Mitchell mentions several studies attempting to determine whether the boon of new online registrants (500,000 Democratic ones alone) would have registered anyways without OVR and what the ethnic and socioeconomic breakdown of the new registrants is versus those who registered traditionally.

“For these studies, PDI is the only system in the state that has the information directly from counties on who registered online, and information on the voters ethnicities, voting behavior, distinctions between new registration and re-registrations, and the past election history and socioeconomics of each voter’s neighborhood,” Mitchell writes.

So what did he find when sifting through this wealth of numerical knowledge?

Statewide turnout on November 6  was 73 percent, for new paper registrants within 45 days of the election, it was 80 percent and for new online registrants 34 days prior, it was 85 percent.

Mitchell is quick to point out that the youth vote got a lot of attention but that overall turnout in the 18-29 demo was just 55 percent. However, for online registrants, turnout averaged 80 percent. Rural counties saw greater bumps, with online turnout veering into the 85-90 percent range in counties like Fresno, Kings and Kern. Latino online registrants saw their turnout raise a solid 18 points above the 55 percent average.

Mitchell stops short of extrapolating this into any meaning for upcoming local elections, where turnout is typically much worse than a General.

However, the Bee’s Torey Van Oot picks up where Mitchell leaves off in a piece today discussing how the above numbers were a major highland for Democrats over the past weekend and are the impetus behind new legislation aimed at further increasing voter access.

“Achieving that result would likely benefit Democrats, who historically fare worse in the lower-turnout nonpresidential elections, as they defend supermajorities in the state Legislature and competitive congressional seats won last year in the 2014 election,” Van Oot writes.

Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee (and recently announced secretary of state candidate) minced no words in expressing the advantage OVR gave Democrats, saying it sent Republicans “running” and helped them gain several competitive congressional seats.

So what we have is a party firmly in control looking to expand the reach of the changes that gave them a blank check to do as the please, with or without Republicans on board. Yee himself authored the bill that expedited OVR into existence and there are now more than 20 bills in the current session seeking to expand what Yee began.

We have previously touched on legislation that would allow 15 year old to pre-register to vote when applying for a driver’s license and another that would allow 17 year olds to vote in primaries provided they are 18 by the actual election date. Other legislation deals with allowing absentee ballots postmarked the day of the election to get counted and speeding up the move toward actual online voting.

The Republicans claim that the Democrats are playing politics with the state’s voting laws. Whether that claim has any merit to it, the byproduct of all of this is a rush to expand access to the most fundamental of democratic liberties to as many people as possible. It’s almost unprecedented.

California Forward works to make the democratic process and elected officials more responsive to the public interest and the will of the people – by giving citizens more control over the political process and ensuring elected officials are motivated and empowered to respond to the needs and priorities of all Californians.


Christopher Nelson

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