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California Sets Record As Voter Registration Tops 19 Million

A sign at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters on Overland Avenue, June 5, 2018.
Beth Accomando
A sign at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters on Overland Avenue, June 5, 2018.
California Sets Record As Voter Registration Tops 19 Million
California Sets Record As Voter Registration Tops 19 Million GUEST: Paul Mitchell, vice president, Political Data Inc

Our top story a midday edition. The number of Californians registered to vote has hit an all time high with more than 19 million people registered. That means 76 percent of all eligible voters in California are signed up to vote. SAN DIEGO COUNTY REGISTER voters Michael vuh says voter registration has reached 75 percent of eligible voters in San Diego County we're seeing a record number of registered voters on the books. Currently we're over one point seven million registered voters. We actually were just hovering underneath that one point seven million registered voters in the June election. And since that time frame we've gone over that number and that number continues to increase. The combination of a new state law and lots of political enthusiasm has helped swell the rolls. However it remains to be seen if the growth in registration translates into more voters this November. Joining me by Skype is Paul Mitchell head of the bipartisan firm Political Data Incorporated. And Paul welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. You credit much of this increase to the new California motor voter program. How exactly has it helped boost registration. You know the way you phrased it was exactly right. We're really not sure how much of this new registration is because it evaded the electorate either excited or anxious about what's happening nationally and how much of it is simply mechanical that they've improved the way that we actually register voters. And the big improve movement is very simple but actually enormous impact improvement and that is that at the DMV for years we've had a process where you could register to vote but if you were really trying to get out of the DMV the easiest thing to do was just to say no no no and move on. Now they flipped it. And when you're at the DMV they are going to register to vote unless you say no no no one thought a form then you're just going to be automatically registered. So this strategy of getting out of the DMV as fast as possible is just let them register you and get out. And it's caused a huge number of new registrations and reregistration of people who were whose registration was just fine. And so we're really not sure exactly how it's going to impact turnout but we have seen huge numbers of registrations being processed. It did that also caused the problem with the 23000 erroneous registrations sent from the DMV to the secretary of state's office. The fact that people were just doing this by rote and they weren't even thinking about it. Well that was a little hiccup that happened the beginning of the process and it simply had to do with the fact that the person sitting at the counter was not closing one screen out before they opened up another screen it was a little administrative thing. The important thing with that is that it didn't remove anybody's registration it didn't change anybody's political party it didn't you know make somebody's voter registration not ballot anymore. All it did was essentially register a handful of people who didn't know they were being reregistered. So not a huge snafu but definitely something the DMV took a little bit of a hit for. But what we're talking about with the impact of this change is essentially you know we're going to see maybe two thirds of the voter register that are happening in the state right now coming from people who are just going to being churned through the DMV and the long term impact is and we could see our vote fall kind of grow to maybe 20 to 23 million voters by the next presidential election. So how did the new voters find out that their registered if they weren't aware they did that at the DMV. Well it's funny is we did a poll and we actually just asked people we knew that they had registered at the DMV and we asked them Have you registered to vote recently. And half of them said no. We asked them if they registered to vote the DMV and still 46 percent said they don't remember doing that. But they're being reregistered part of it is that this is supposed to be an automatic registration process. So the fact that they're being registered and barely noticing it isn't necessarily a hit on the process. You know if your Netflix was being renewed every month and it did get renewed and you didn't know it that's exactly an indictment. I suppose they'll get a voter's guide in the mail and realize that they are now a registered voter. Yeah that's true to the people who are new registrants there may be a handful or you know potentially a lot who they see a ballot come in the mail and they think oh I didn't realize I was registered to vote but the DMV has verified that they're eligible and they've made sure that they're registered. Now these new voters are signed up. What do you think will actually get them to vote. Well it's interesting a lot of people have been saying that this new registration process is just to essentially balloon the numbers of registered voters but not have a big impact on turnout. And that's probably true. A lot of the people who are going to be automatically register and don't take any steps to actually do it. They are the kind of people who might just not vote. But if we can remove this hurdle of having to register it should help increase the raw numbers of people who turn out and vote. The actual act of having to register to vote you know weeks before an election really doesn't have a significant policy rationale. And there are a lot of people who wait till the last minute. Like imagine the last anniversary you had or the last Mother's Day or Father's Day. And how many people go out that day to go buy a car. They don't do it two weeks in advance but we expect them to register two weeks in advance which really doesn't have any policy reason for it. So the more we can get to a system where we remove that hurdle I think the more we're going to be doing to enfranchise voters. I've been speaking with Paul Mitchell head of the bipartisan firm Political Data Incorporated. Paul thank you. Of course thank you for having me. The deadline to register to vote in the November election is October 22nd. You can register to vote by visiting register to vote. Dot ca dot gov.

California's voter registration has hit an all-time high ahead of the November election, with more than 19 million people on the voting rolls, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported Tuesday.

Nearly 76 percent of those eligible to vote were registered as of Sept. 7, the largest share in September since the 1996 presidential election, which had 77 percent.

Californians are increasingly turning away from political parties and registering as "no party preference" voters, a trend that has gained steam over the past two decades.


Republicans and Democrats both saw their ranks shrink between May — before the primary — and September, while the number of unaffiliated voters rose. Just under 44 percent of registered voters were Democrats, 27 percent were unaffiliated and 25 percent were Republicans.

Paul Mitchell, head of the bipartisan firm Political Data Inc., attributes much of the rise in both registered and unaffiliated voters to a new California program that automatically signs people up or updates their address at the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless they opt out.

The computerized form allows people to select a political party from a drop-down menu or check a box declining to join a political party.

Mitchell's data, including surveys of people who have registered this way, suggest many don't realize they are the updating their voter registration. Rather than reading the form closely, they are checking boxes to get out of the DMV more quickly, and many aren't bothering with the drop-down box, he said.

"They're treating their voter registration like I treat the form at the car rental place," Mitchell said.


The major parties have lost members between May and September in every election cycle since 2002. Still, Democratic registration is up since the 2016 election, while Republican registration is down.

Padilla said people can still sign up until Oct. 22.

"The next step for our registered Californians is turning out to vote," Padilla said in a statement. "The general election is next month, so it's time for voters to make a plan to vote, either in person or by mail."

While top-of-the-ticket races for governor and U.S. Senate have been relatively sleepy, California has several hotly contested races being watched nationally that could determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

Nearly 835,000 more people were registered 60 days before the election than two years ago, a sizable jump even though presidential years like 2016 generally see higher levels of engagement. Registration is up by almost 1.5 million people since the last election for governor in 2014.

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