As voter suppression laws spread across the country, voting rights advocates can take heart: the biggest state in the nation is on the cusp of passing a major voter protection initiative.
Election Day Registration (EDR), which allows citizens to register up to and on Election Day, passed the California State Senate today by a party-line vote of 23–13. AB 1436 had passed the State Assembly in May 47–26.
Under current law, Californians cannot register to vote in the final two weeks before an election, just as many Americans are beginning to tune in. EDR will eliminate that deadline, ensuring that no citizen is disenfranchised because he or she wasn’t registered beforehand.
This won’t just benefit slackers. Historically-disenfranchised citizens like minorities and poorer Americans, will particularly benefit from EDR. On average, studies have found that EDR boosts voter turnout by seven percentage points. Common Cause’s Phillip Ung told ThinkProgress he “expects voter turnout to increase by the hundreds of thousands” solely as a result of EDR.
Eight states currently allow their citizens to register on Election Day: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. California is poised to become the latest, and by far the largest, state to enact EDR.
California’s version of EDR differs slightly from the way it’s employed elsewhere. Rather than allowing citizens to register at regular polling stations, as they do in Maine, for instance, California will have Election Day registration at a county registrar’s office, where citizens will be able to vote as well.
The bill now returns to the Assembly for a concurrence vote — which is all but assured of passage — due to a small change in the Senate version before reaching Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) desk. Brown has not commented publicly on the bill, but has been very supportive of election reform efforts in the past and advocates expect he will sign the legislation.
AB 1436 also increases the fine for voter fraud to $50,000, one of the highest penalties in the country.
Assuming Brown signs the bill, it will not take effect until the next presidential election in 2016.