Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star, Calif.
Election seasons come and go, and with them public attention to the political process waxes and wanes.
"The really heartbreaking fact of the matter is that a lot of the excitement kicks in about two weeks before Election Day. But by then it's too late, and a lot of people are left sitting on the sidelines," said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "If we can engage people when they're excited, we have an opportunity to create a lifelong voter."
The Legislature on Tuesday moved closer toward embracing one way to help Californians seize that moment by allowing voter registration to take place through Election Day — an approach that has sparked sharp partisan divisions in the past.
On a party-line vote, with majority Democrats in support, the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee approved a bill to allow same-day voter registration as soon as a new statewide computerized database is operational. The system will let elections officials check the status of all voters statewide.
The measure — AB 1436, by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles — has been approved by the Assembly and next heads to the Senate Public Safety Committee, which must consider the bill because it would increase the maximum penalty for voter fraud.
Feuer said the key difference from previous attempts is the timing. His bill would not take effect until Jan. 1 of the year after a database called Vote-Cal, now being developed, becomes operational. Such a database, required by the federal government of every state, would incorporate the voter rolls of all 58 counties in the state and be linked with data from other government agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and Social Security Administration.
By using the database, he said, elections officials would be able to "determine instantaneously if a voter is registered elsewhere" and whether a voter has cast a ballot in another county.
"Right now, the counties operate in a vacuum," said Alexander, whose nonprofit has not taken a position on AB 1436.
The statewide database would address concerns of some critics that same-day registration could enable some voters to move about the state on Election Day, casting ballots in multiple counties.
The Secretary of State's Office, which ended the original contract to develop the database, is now seeking bids from other vendors. The database potentially could be operational in 2015. If the current bill became law, same-day registration in California would be in effect for the 2016 presidential election.
Antoinnae Comeaux of the University of California Student Association told the committee that same-day registration would be a boon to college students, who often fail to register in time at their new residences.
"Thousands of college students miss the deadline as they constantly move throughout the year for academic or financial reasons," she said.
The current deadline to register to vote is 15 days before an election.
The bill would let eligible voters register and vote at a county elections office on Election Day and during the two weeks leading up to it. Those late registrants would complete a conditional registration form and cast a provisional ballot. Their votes would be counted if elections officials determine their registration to be valid during the 30-day canvas period that follows every election.
Ten states allow for same-day voter registration, and Feuer says all but one of those states had a higher voter-participation rate than California in the November 2010 elections.
"Why should it be that other states have a much higher voter participation rate?" he said.
©2012 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)