The coming tidal wave: What does California’s huge voter registration surge mean on Nov 6?

150 150 Christopher Nelson

How many of the 18.2 million registered voters in California will be wearing a stick like the above when tomorrow is over?

Well over three quarters of the eligible voters in California registered to vote, or about 18.2 million people in total, according to an official statement released by Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office.

Although the approximately 986,000 new voters who registered in the 45 days prior to the October 22 deadline doesn’t surpass 2008’s record 1.2 million tally in the same timeframe, this year’s surge is still significant and the overall number does represent a new record total.

According to the non-partisan Political Data Inc., some districts are seeing 10 percent increases in the number of registered voters, which could easily be a decisive margin of victory or failure. These surges took a decidedly partisan slant statewide, with almost half of new registrants doing so as Democrats. It may not come as a surprise in such a traditinally blue state, but in the newly, independently drawn districts being used this cycle, it could spell trouble for Republican incumbents who have typically dealt with far less opposition to their re-election efforts.

And of course, Onilne Voter Registration (OVR) helped get a huge chunk of the Millennial, early to mid 20s voting bloc registered by the October 22 deadline. OVR accounted for 670,000 registrants, with just over 100K of those happening in the 24 hours before the deadline.

The effects could be felt in counties small and large. We spoke with Cathy Allen, County Clerk for Shasta County, who had this to say:

“In our county we’ve had almost 2,500 folks register online. We’ve also reached some milestones this election season: we broke 100,000 registered voters, and sent out over 60,000 vote by mail ballots. I think we can give some of the credit to OVR, and that’s a good thing.”

California Forward’s own Caroline Bruister, who has been following the registration efforts this election cycle as close as anyone in the organization, saw much room for enthusiasm. 

“Bringing more voters into the process is the only way we can truly hold elected officials accountable and begin to restore trust in our government systems. The uptick in registered voters is truly exciting for our democracy,” Bruister said.

The real question leading into Election Day is whether or not all of these new registrations will turn into votes cast at the polls.

Media chatter indicates that there is not as much voter enthusiasm this cycle as there was in 2008 and that the flock to the online tool might be creating an artificial sense of enthusiasm. In the 2008 national election, almost 57 percent of the voting age population actually cast a ballot.

“Seeing a record number of Californians registered to vote is wonderful, but there are still too many eligible people skipping the electoral process altogether,” said Secretary of State Debra Bowen in a press release. 

“Registering to vote is easier now than it was four years ago, yet fewer people actually registered in this final 45-day window than did in 2008. This makes it clear that it’s not just a question of making voter registration easier; it’s really about what inspires people to care about their democracy and be part of the decision-making process.”

It’s true that while talk in other areas of the country focuses on the possible exclusion of voters from the democratic process, whether by purported subterfuge or due to Hurricane Sandy, California is making things easier for people to get to the polls and participate.

Check back right here at or on our Facebook page at for our continuing coverage to see how 2012’s voting trends materialize and if, in fact, the increased registration impacts the election in new and interesting ways.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson