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CA Bills Aim To “Drive” Voter Registration to 100%

June 8, 2009

Voter turnout could be better in California - a lot better - but more than 7 million residents of the state who are eligible to vote are not even registered.

One hundred percent voter registration is the goal of two bills, both moving through the State Legislature. One of them (AB 106) would make registration automatic when a person fills out a form for the Department of Motor Vehicles or files a state income tax form. Those who don't want to register can opt out.

At the New America Foundation, a nonpatrisan public policy group, Steven Hill is director of the Political Reform Program. He says the other bill (AB 30) would allow high school students to pre-register to vote at age 16 - then, upon turning 18, their registration would become active.

"It allows us to engage young people at an earlier age and use the high schools as vehicles to do that. It's kind-of like we have 'driver's ed' now - we can have 'voter's ed' and 'civic ed.'"

Hill acknowledges that registration is only the first step in getting people to the polls. However, he likens voter registration to getting a gym membership – it doesn't do you much good if you don't actually use it. The bills, he explains, are attempts to remove the roadblocks that sometimes stop a person from voting.

"It means people won't get caught by deadlines, and they won't be caught in the partisan bickering that goes on around elections, where everyone's trying to get 'their' voters registered to vote and keep the 'other side's' voters off."

California ranks 36th in the nation for turnout of voters ages 18 to 24 at the polls, according to the Secretary of State's office. AB 30 is an attempt to increase young voter participation. Both bills were introduced by Assembly Member Curren Price, Jr. (D-51st District).

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA