Californians will be able to register to vote as late as Election Day, though not for a few years yet, under a bill signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The Golden State just last week implemented online voter registration, so as some states enact voter ID laws placing new strictures on voter access, California is heading in the opposite direction.
AB 1436 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-West Hollywood, will let a Californian vote with a provisional ballot if he or she presents a properly completed registration form at his or her county elections office in the 14 days up to and including Election Day.
This law won't take effect until the Secretary of State certifies VoteCal, the new statewide voter database; that's expected to happen in 2015. The deadline to register for this November's election remains Monday, Oct. 22.
Under the new law, a voter's registration information must match data on file with the California Department of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security Administration; if not, the voter will be issued a unique identification number in order to confirm his or her eligibility before the ballot is counted. Fraud on such a form would be punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $25,000 fine.
The governor also signed bills Monday letting family members from the same household drop off each other's vote-by-mail ballots at polling places, and letting county elections officials use information from credit-reporting agencies to update and maintain voter rolls.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a statement saying California "once again leads the way for our nation" by affirming "our commitment to ensuring all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote in our democracy."
Actually, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the District of Columbia already permit same-day voter registration at most or all elections, while Connecticut and Rhode Island allow it for presidential elections only.
Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, said California's new law marks an ever-deepening divide between GOP-dominated states where new voter ID laws in the name of preventing fraud are making it harder for many, especially traditionally Democratic voters, to cast ballots, and Democrat-dominated states, which are expanding voter access.
Democrats have a partisan motivation, too, he said: "Those voters who are least attached to the system -- who move the most, who are poor, who are students -- are the groups that have the most problems registering but are also the groups that are more likely to vote for Democrats."
Hasen said "the ideals of equality" suggest letting as many eligible voters as possible cast ballots, but "over history we've fought over how broad the franchise would be." It took constitutional amendments, the Civil War, litigation and legislation to get where we are today, he noted.
Justin Levitt, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, noted California's new law doesn't go as far as some other states': Others issue regular ballots to last-minute registrants, while the Golden State wi'll offer only provisional ballots to be counted after eligibility is confirmed. Still, he said, it's "a very easy bill to support ... without sacrificing any security or integrity of the election at all.''
Besides Election Day voter registration, Gov. Jerry Brown signed other political reform and election-related bills Monday, including:
AB 216: lets county elections officials use change-of-address information from consumer credit reporting agencies -- instead of the U.S. Postal Service -- for updating and maintaining accurate voter registration lists.
AB 2080: eliminates a requirement that a voter be ill or disabled in order to have a family member in the same household return a vote-by-mail ballot on his or her behalf.
AB 481: tightens campaign finance disclosure requirements for independent expenditure committees.
SB 1001: doubles lobbyists' filing fees from $25 to $50 per year, and requires political committees to pay a similar $50 annual filing fee, with proceeds to pay for maintaining, repairing and improving the Secretary of State's online disclosure system for lobbyists.