California tends to be a trend-setter. For now, at least when it comes to voting, the Golden State is being contrarian.
That's good news, and it's good policy, too.
Many states, especially those controlled by Republicans, are creating unnecessary barriers, citing unfounded fears of voter fraud. California, meanwhile, is using technology to make it easier to register to vote. And the state is doing so without abandoning the integrity of its election systems.
On Wednesday, the secretary of state initiated an online system that makes registering to vote or updating your address as easy as clicking a mouse. You can do so here: https://rtv.sos.ca.gov/elections/register-to-vote.
A bill on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk would put the state on a path toward the next logical step — allowing eligible voters to register all the way through to and including Election Day.
The goal is to combat apathy and reverse another trend, a steady decline in voter turnout that has increased the influence of money and given extra clout to special interest groups whose members turn out and vote.
Four years ago, when 79.4 percent of California's registered voters cast ballots in November, it was hailed as the largest turnout for a presidential election since 1976. Yet just 59.2 percent of those <i>eligible</i> voted.
That figure has fallen as low as 19.7 percent in statewide elections since 1980. Turnout is routinely even smaller in local elections, further buttressing the voting power of blocs such as organized labor and the elderly, who turn out in large numbers.
States including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas have adopted laws requiring voters to present photo IDs or prohibiting early voting on the pretense of stopping voter fraud. But federal investigations and extensive academic studies have found almost no evidence of ineligible voters impersonating registered voters. So it's reasonable to conclude that an unspoken objective of these laws is to suppress the vote among certain interest groups.
For many people, a candid comment from Pennsylvania's state GOP chairman — who said the voter ID law guaranteed a win in the state for Mitt Romney — confirm suspicions about the motive for requiring photo IDs.
There's another way to dilute the influence of special interests — get more people to vote. That approach has another virtue: It's consistent with our nation's democratic values.
California's online registration system requires would-be voters to provide their birth date, the final four digits of their Social Security number and their driver's license or state ID card number. The voter's signature will be acquired from the DMV, so it can be checked against the signature on a mail ballot. (Mail ballots are another way California has tried to boost Election Day turnout.)
The same-day registration system authorized by Assembly Bill 1436 also has safeguards. The law wouldn't take effect until registration can be monitored through a statewide voter database and identification system, as required by legislation signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush.
The registration deadline for the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 22. If you aren't signed up already, pick up a card or go online, but register. And vote.