SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – At a record 20.4 million voters, California officials announced Thursday over 80% of the state’s eligible voters are registered to vote in next month’s Super Tuesday primary – the highest rate for a presidential primary since 1952.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla says there are currently over 3 million more registered voters compared to a similar point in the 2016 presidential election, and he expects the total to grow.
“California entered 2020 with a record 20.4 million registered voters—and I only expect that figure to climb as we reach the presidential primary in March and general election in November,” Padilla said in a statement.
Hoping for more clout in the presidential nomination process, lawmakers in 2017 pushed California’s 2020 primary up from June to March 3, commonly known as Super Tuesday. State Democrats said they were irritated with the reduced role the nation’s most populous state played in 2016 and hoped the swap would bump turnout and force candidates to campaign in the Golden State.
Thursday’s data suggests that while the change and a variety of other voter-registration bills enacted since 2016 are boosting registration, the Republican Party’s share continues to shrink.
According to the penultimate statewide registration report before Super Tuesday, 4.8 million or 23% have registered to vote Republican, down from 27% ahead of the 2016 primary.
The GOP holds registration advantages over the Democratic Party in 18 of 58 counties, mostly in the state’s lesser populated northern and central counties. GOP registration totals eclipse 50% in just two counties, Lassen and Modoc.
Meanwhile the percentage of registered Democrats (44%) or no party preference (25%) has risen slightly compared to 2016.
Just over 9 million have registered as Democratic and the party continues to dominate in urban centers like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Mateo and Alameda counties.
The report also shows that Californians continue to shun the two major parties as no party preference voters make up 2% more of the electorate than in 2016.
Over 5.2 million Californians registered as no party preference, and they make up at least 25% of the voters in 17 counties. No party preference registration has however dropped 143,000 voters since the October 2019 report, perhaps because California holds a closed primary.
While this year the state Democratic Party is allowing no party preference voters to participate in its primary, they have to request a crossover ballot. The state GOP has decided to only allow registered Republicans to vote in its presidential primary.
The California Republican Party didn’t immediately respond to a request regarding Thursday’s registration report.
The extra step necessary for no party preference voters has caused confusion in the past, but lawmakers are looking to simplify the process ahead of Super Tuesday.
On Thursday, the state Senate cleared a bill that will make it easier for voters to change their party preference in the two weeks before Election Day. The bill heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom and would go into effect immediately if signed.
“We need to ensure California’s nonpartisan and independent voters are able to cast a ballot for the presidential candidate they prefer,” said the bill’s co-author Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “Voting ought to be easy, and Senate Bill 207 will streamline the process to allow these independent voters less hassle than normal when voting for their preferred candidate.”
Early voting for the March 3 primary is underway as counties began sending out vote-by-mail ballots this week. Padilla’s office will send out a final statewide registration report Feb. 28.
The state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has passed a series of measures over the last several years to expand voter access.
County officials are allowed to send each registered voter ballots in the mail, eligible residents can register to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, there is same-day registration at all polling sites and 16- and 17-year-olds can sign up to have their registration automatically activated when they turn 18.
Padilla says the early-registration program has been a success as more than 500,000 high school students have taken advantage of it since 2016.
“I am challenging California teens, school administrators, and parents to help us add another 100,000 pre-registrations by the November 2020 general election,” Padilla said.