SACRAMENTO — Voter interest continues to grow in California as officials announced Thursday over 83% of the electorate has registered to vote, the highest entering a general election since 1952.
Following a Super Tuesday in which a record 9.6 million Californians voted, Secretary of State Alex Padilla says the registration spike has continued even with the extended coronavirus shutdown.
“Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, California is on track to reach another registration milestone,” Padilla said in a statement. “California will reach 21 million registered voters before the November General Election-extending our current state record for voter registration.”
After lawmakers bumped the primary up from June to March to encourage participation, California counted a record number of votes and notched its second-highest turnout for a primary. Padilla and other officials said the move was a clear success as it forced presidential candidates to campaign in the nation’s largest state.
In the first registration report since the primary, Padilla says 2.8 million more people have signed up to vote compared to a similar point in the 2016 election cycle. A total of 20.9 million of the state’s 25 million eligible are slated to participate Nov. 3.
California is one of many states that have decided to temporarily overhaul their election policies due to the pandemic.
Governor Gavin Newsom ordered mandatory mail ballots on May 8, claiming the state needed to quell the fears of voters and volunteers about contracting the coronavirus at polling sites. He said California voters shouldn’t have to wade into a “concentrated dense environment to cast their vote.”
The move was criticized by President Donald Trump on Twitter and unsuccessfully challenged in court by California Republicans.
To help make the switch, lawmakers have passed a series of bills extending the length of time officials can count ballots postmarked on or before Election Day, along with guidelines requiring at least one physical voting center per 10,000 registered voters. In addition, counties will be required to offer voters a ballot-tracking system.
Hoping to spur interest after a stretch of low-voter turnout in statewide elections, the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has passed a series of registration reforms over the last several years.
Even prior to Newsom’s edict, counties were allowed to send each registered voter ballots in the mail. The state has also implemented programs that allow eligible residents to register when they apply for a driver’s license, same-day registration at polling sites and 16- and 17-year-olds can sign up to have their registration automatically activated when they turn 18.
The horde of changes have however presented hurdles, as last week Padilla acknowledged over half of the state’s counties were struggling to secure enough places willing and able to accommodate socially distant voting.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” said Padilla. “Anybody who has a facility that may lend itself to an in-person location this November, we need your help.”
So far two California professional sports franchises have answered Padilla’s call, as both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sacramento Kings have offered their respective counties use of their stadiums.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party continues to increase its share of California’s electorate.
According to Thursday’s update, 46% have registered to vote Democratic compared to just 24% Republican. Registered Democrats outnumber Republican statewide by 4.7 million, while nearly 30% have registered as no-party-preference or third-party.
The Democratic Party’s main strongholds are in counties like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa where it holds over 50% of registered voters. Republicans make up over half the voters in just rural Modoc and Lassen counties.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner were the last Republicans to win statewide office in 2006 and the state hasn’t gone to a GOP presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Since this time in 2016, Los Angeles County has seen the largest increase in registered voters with 642,000, followed by San Diego with 299,000 and San Bernardino 236,000. Percentage-wise, Tulare (31%) and San Bernardino (29%) have seen the largest jumps.
Statewide, more than 564,000 16- and 17-year-olds have preregistered since 2016 to vote once they turn 18.
— By Nick Cahill, CNS