California online voter registration system could increase student voter turnout

Californians can now register to vote from their computers, thanks to an online voter registration system launched Wednesday — a program that university student groups have been lobbying for and expect to bring more students to the polls this November.

The new system was brought into effect by Senate Bill 397, which passed during the state Legislature’s most recent session and could alter the fate of legislation affecting students.

“Anytime voter registration is made easier, it has the potential to increase turnout,” said Laura Stoker, an associate professor in the UC Berkeley political science department. “Young people, who are of course very computer literate, are more likely to use the system.”

When the state upgraded its voter registration process in 2009 to make it more available online, the shift resulted in a significant student response. According to a report on student voter registration by the California secretary of state, after the state created a printable voter registration form that could be linked to on college websites, more than 10,000 students completed the form during its first full year of implementation, and more than 8,000 students used it in 2011.

Eric McGhee, a policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California who does research on election reform and voting behavior, said one reason the new online system could increase voting participation among college students is because students tend to lead a more transient lifestyle than older Californians.

“One of the most compelling arguments is that young people are not rooted in any particular community,” he said. “They are not going to be registered because every time they move they don’t reregister. The transient lifestyle makes it hard to be motivated and go through the mechanics to register to vote.”

survey released in August by the PPIC found that Californians age 55 and above make up 29 percent of the adult population in the state but 44 percent of likely voters, whereas people between ages 18 and 34, the age range of most California college students, make up 33 percent of the state’s adult population but only represent 18 percent of likely voters.

ASUC Senator Mihir Deo said he registered as soon as he could using the new system because of its convenience.

“I was already registered, but I wanted to change residency, so I went online,” Deo said. “It is a lot better than the paper system. You can do it from the comfort of your own home.”

Along with the systemwide UC Student Association, the ASUC, Cal Berkeley Democrats and CalPIRG have been campaigning to get students to register to vote. The UCSA and CalPIRG also lobbied for the passage of SB 397.

Lilly Adams, chair of the campus chapter of CalPIRG, said the ASUC, UCSA and CalPIRG will be promoting online registration by rolling out a widget button on Monday that campus organizations can share with students via social media to link them to the system.

If the online system does increase voter turnout among young people, it could affect the fate of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, which could prevent a $50 million cut to UC Berkeley and a roughly 20 percent midyear tuition hike.

According to a poll released by the PPIC Wednesday, 52 percent of likely voters support the measure, while 40 percent are opposed and 8 percent remain undecided. 72 percent of likely voters between ages 18 and 34 surveyed support Prop. 30, compared to 42 percent of voters age 55 and older who support the initiative.

“Students are really invested in Proposition 30,” Adams said. “Having an online voter registration system for students can make their voice heard on that issue.”

Contact Alyssa Neumann at [email protected].