Late last week, Scott Keyes at ThinkProgess reported on a "Majority Victory for Voting Rights Advocates as California Legislature Approves Election Day Registration".
The new EDR law, which is, as Keyes reports, "on the cusp of passing", is expected to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and would, indeed, be a victory for voters in the Golden State.
According to the NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, "Election Day registration boosts turnout by approximately 5–7 points in those states that allow eligible citizens to register on Election Day --- with a decreased dependence on provisional ballots and without any reported increase in voter fraud."
If passed and signed as expected, however, the law --- a welcome expansion to the franchise amidst recent draconian Republican efforts to restrict voting rights --- would not take effect until 2015 or later, according to Dean Logan, the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for Los Angeles County, the largest voting jurisdiction in the nation.
"The bill's implementation is tied to completion of the Vote Cal statewide voter registration database; which is a ways off," he told The BRAD BLOG on Friday. Logan says he is "Generally...supportive of the bill and to expanding access and options for voters," though he notes that "L.A. County has not taken a formal position on it."
While the new law will, no doubt, be a net plus for voters here in California, and for the pro-democracy movement across the country over all, there are a few other issues with the way the law has been written which might make it slightly less of a plus for voters than apparent at first blush, as Logan helped us to understand...
First, here is how Keyes reported the good news last week:
Under current law, Californians cannot register to vote in the final two weeks before an election, just as many Americans are beginning to tune in. EDR will eliminate that deadline, ensuring that no citizen is disenfranchised because he or she wasn’t registered beforehand.
This won’t just benefit slackers. Historically-disenfranchised citizens like minorities and poorer Americans, will particularly benefit from EDR. On average, studies have found that EDR boosts voter turnout by seven percentage points. Common Cause’s Phillip Ung told ThinkProgress he “expects voter turnout to increase by the hundreds of thousands” solely as a result of EDR.
Eight states currently allow their citizens to register on Election Day: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. California is poised to become the latest, and by far the largest, state to enact EDR.
California’s version of EDR differs slightly from the way it’s employed elsewhere. Rather than allowing citizens to register at regular polling stations, as they do in Maine, for instance, California will have Election Day registration at a county registrar’s office, where citizens will be able to vote as well.
On that last point, we checked in with Logan to get a better explanation of what exactly the requirement to registration at a Registrar's office may mean for voters in Los Angeles, the largest county in the nation, with more registered voters in it alone than in 32 of the 50 states.
As with their current implementation of Early Voting --- which is available only at the L.A. County Clerk's headquarters in Norwalk, a full 40-minute drive, on a good day, from The BRAD BLOG's World News Headquarters here in L.A. County --- would the state's implementation of Election Day Registration also require a special trip all the way to county headquarters, as suggested by Keyes' report?
The County Clerk tells us that the bill "mandates EDR at Registrar's Offices and then authorized (permissive) Registrar's to offer EDR at other facilities in the County."
Once the bill is implemented, Logan wrote via email on Friday, he "would expect to establish more than one site in L.A. County, but that decision will be impacted by other factors such as voting system, resources, etc."
He adds, that since the laws implementation will be tied to the completion of the statewide voter registration database, "which is a ways off...there will be time to determine best option[s]."
Logan says the CA Secretary of State estimates that the database project won't be completed until "some time in 2015."
So, while the new law, if enacted as expected, will undoubtedly be good news for voters and democracy-lovers in CA in general, it remains to be seen how large an overall impact it will actually have statewide, if only for the huge percentage of voters in Los Angeles who may, or may not, be close enough to a County Clerk's facility where they will be allowed to exercise the option of registering and voting on the same day.
Welcome response to Republican disenfranchisement
The move towards expanding access to the polls in CA, adopted largely along party lines, comes amidst attempts to contract the franchise by Republicans across the nation, often through draconian means unseen since the Jim Crow era in the South. GOP-controlled legislatures, since taking power during the 2010 wave election, have passed scores of new laws over the past two years attempting to curb voter registration programs, limit Early Voting hours, restrict access to the polls with unnecessarily strict polling place Photo ID restrictions, and even cancel Election Day Registration programs in several of the states where it has been successfully implemented for years.
None of the recent efforts by Republicans to turn back the clock on voting rights should come as a surprise to those who have been paying attention over the past ten, and even more, years.
"I don't want everybody to vote," American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) co-founder and "conservative" movement demi-god Paul Weyrich admitted at a convention of evangelical preachers in 1980 in what we refer to as "The Rosetta Stone of the Modern Day Republican Voter Suppression Movement". (See haunting video at right.)
After denigrating those who seek "good government" through maximum, informed voter participation, as people who suffer from what he described as "goo goo syndrome," he explained that "Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now."
"As a matter of fact," he added in his notorious comments, "our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down."
Weyrich's organization, ALEC has been one of the chief promoters of disenfranchising polling place Photo ID restrictions and other anti-voting laws across the country over the past two years.
Since their success in the 2010 midterms, ALEC and the GOP have carried out what Judith Browne Dianis, a civil rights litigator & co-director of The Advancement Project, described during a U.S. Senate hearing on voting rights last year, as "the largest legislative effort to roll back voting rights since the post-Reconstruction era." That effort, she testified, entailed a coordinated effort at "voter suppression, making it harder to register to vote, harder to cast a ballot and harder to have a vote counted."
An attack of Election Day Registration has been part and parcel of that effort, and has included GOP legislation in Maine which sought to end EDR, even though it had been both wildly popular and available in the Pine Tree State for 38 years. More recently, a number of Rightwing organizations filed an unsuccessful legal challenge to EDR in Minnesota, a state which proudly boasts one of the finest voter turnout rates in the nation --- first during the 2008 Presidential elections and second during the 2010 mid-term.
"The bottom line is," former Ohio Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner told us during an exclusive interview last week, "voting is not a partisan issue." At least it shouldn't be.
"It should never be a partisan issue," she said. "Having control of the rules is not political booty. It really should be a place where everyone walks into that room, they drop their partisan cloak, they stand up, they act like grown-ups, and they say 'Let's do what's fair, because our future depends on it.'"
Except where they have been taken in by the phantom menace of "voter fraud" and polling place Photo ID restrictions, the people would appear to much prefer the "good government" that Weyrich decried, in the form of a democracy and maximum informed voter participation. Hence, when the GOP desire to suppress the vote was clear, as it was when they recently attempted to end Election Day Registration in Maine, it received a landslide rebuke by way of a "People's Veto" referendum.
Given the volatile political atmosphere over the past two years, and the hits that democracy has taken in the bargain, it's encouraging to see the franchise, hopefully, expanded for a change, through implementation of EDR in California, even with the limitations their version of the effort may ultimately offer.
Ernest A. Canning contributed to this article.
UPDATE 8/2712: A source up in Sacramento tells The BRAD BLOG that "After a vitriolic partisan debate, the bill passed 48-28." Late tonight Capital Public Radio confirms by reporting that Election Day Registration is now "on the way to Governor Jerry Brown".