California expands automatic voter registration to teens

New law will add hundreds of thousands of registered young voters every year.

Voters fill out their ballots in the patriotic voting booths at Merrill Auditorium with a hour and 20 minutes to go before the polls close. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/ Getty Images)
Voters fill out their ballots in the patriotic voting booths at Merrill Auditorium with a hour and 20 minutes to go before the polls close. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/ Getty Images)

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law Wednesday legislation that will automatically pre-register all 16 and 17 year olds to vote when they receive a California driver’s license or state identification card.

The law is “the largest voter registration expansion that we’re aware of in our nation’s history,” according to Terry Schanz, the chief of staff to state Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D), who co-authored the bill. According to state lawmakers, this new law is expected to add 200,000 young voters each year.

As it currently stands under California law, the state Department of Motor vehicles has an opt-in process for voter registration. But starting on January 1, 2019, all teens who pass through the department will automatically be added to the system and able to vote once they turn 18.

California lawmakers see this move as a way to address the significant disparity in registered voters in the state. During the 2012 presidential election cycle, California ranked 38th out of all 50 states when it came to the number of eligible but unregistered voters, with roughly 7 million voters in this category.

In 2015, Oregon passed the first automatic voter registration legislation in partnership with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles — and as a result, more than 272,000 individuals were added to the voter rolls, and more than 98,000 of them were new voters during the 2016 presidential election. The law allowed Oregon’s eligible voting population be more representative of the state’s population, since citizens registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles tend to be younger, more rural, lower-income, and more ethnically diverse.

The California law comes at a time when high school-age voters are eager to have their voices heard on Election Day. In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, the surviving students have made it clear to legislators that if they don’t take action on gun control, they will face the consequences.

“We are too young to vote, but soon we will be able to vote, and we will vote you out,” warned student Florence Yared at a rally at the Florida Capitol.

Prominent student activist and shooting survivor David Hogg has tweeted out his support for voter registration efforts, as have some of his peers affected by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

This new coalition of mobilized young voters in Florida will likely have an impact on the 2018 midterm elections, as Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is reportedly considering a run against Sen. Bill Nelson (D). The rumored Republican gubernatorial nominee, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, opposes raising Florida’s gun buying age to 21 and has called himself a “proud NRA sellout.” Meanwhile, Scott refused to make an appearance at a CNN Town Hall on gun control with the survivors of the Parkland shooting and has been criticized by some students for the amount of money he has taken from the National Rifle Association.