SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California would become the 12th state to allow same-day voter registration at polling places on election day after the Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that heads to the governor’s desk.
California previously passed a law in 2012 that lets voters register on Election Day but only at a limited number of county election offices and satellite locations, sometimes resulting in long lines late into the night.
SB 72, introduced by state Sen. Thomas Umberg (D-Santa Ana), would make same-day registration available at every polling place in the state. If approved by the governor, it would take effect in 2020.
“Voting is a fundamental right and a cornerstone of our democracy,” said Raúl Macías, Voting Rights Project Manager and Attorney with ACLU of California. “With SB 72, California will strengthen our democracy and make voting more accessible – because no eligible voter should ever be turned away on Election Day.”
As of June 30, 21 states and Washington D.C. had enacted same-day voter registration in some form. Eleven states and Washington D.C. allow same-day registration at polling places.
Research has shown higher voter turnout in states that offer Election Day registration. Same-day registration states had 10% higher voter turnout on average from 1980 to 2012, according to research by Demos, a left-leaning think tank.
“Allowing people to register and vote at the same time, in every polling place, extends California’s national leadership in voting rights,” said Dora Rose, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of California.
According to voting rights groups, only a small percentage of Californians could access voter registration on Election Day because most counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, only offered same-day registration at one site: the county election office.
A mere 15% of the state’s 25.2 million eligible voters live in a county with more than one location offering election day registration, according to California chapters of the ACLU and League of Women Voters.
In 2018, voters in Los Angeles and Orange Counties waited in lines up to four hours late into the night to register to vote at county election offices on Election Day.
Umberg said this bill will ease the burden on voters who missed a registration deadline but still want to participate in democracy.
“California is catching up with so many other states by making our elections as accessible as possible,” Umberg said in a statement. “No one should have to travel long distances and wait in lines for many hours to exercise their right to vote.”
Just under 5.3 million eligible voters were unregistered in California as of February 2019, according to state voter data.