California’s Legislature passed a number of pro-voter initiatives during the past few years. However, the Legislature failed to upgrade its automatic voter registration system to a more secure, efficient, and improved system two years in a row, leaving millions of eligible voters unregistered to vote in the state. Consequently, California received a B on this year’s progress report.
Where California Started in 2020
- Automatic Voter Registration: Hard Stop
- Online Voter Registration: DMV ID
- Same-Day Registration: Yes
- Restoration of Rights: Prison Disenfranchisement
- Vote by Mail: No-excuse
- Electronic Registration Information Center Member: No
- Early Voting Opportunities: Regular Ballot Early Voting
- ID Requirements: No Document Required
Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for California as of 2020, we considered the state a top tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2021-22 activity against other top tier states.
How Our Tier Compares:
2021: Two Years Ago
During the 2021 session, the Legislature passed a series of pro-voter bills that extended pandemic-related election changes and made voting more accessible.
- A 37 permanently extends the requirement to mail all active voters a ballot for statewide elections.
- S 503 revises the state’s signature matching process and notice and cure provisions for mail ballots.
- Signature review starts from a presumption that the ballot signature is the voter’s signature.
- Removes a voter’s party, race, or ethnicity from any consideration when reviewing the signature.
- Requires 2 election workers to agree that a signature does not match before sending the ballot through the cure process.
- Requires voters to be notified by mail within 1 day of the signature mismatch issue. Mailed notice must also include a form and return envelope for the voter to submit to cure.
- S 35 strengthens existing laws against “electioneering” and voter intimidation near the polls and prohibits unauthorized drop boxes.
- A 796 requires the DMV to transmit voter registration info to the secretary of state within 10 days or within 5 days of the registration closing deadline and to monitor the timeliness of its transmission of data.
Although the Legislature made great strides towards making the voting process easier, it did not adopt a bill that would have made significant improvements to the state’s troubled automatic voter registration system.
- S 583 would have transitioned the state to a substantially safer, more efficient, and more effective back-end automatic registration process used by states like Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada, helping to address the fact that more than 4 million eligible California citizens remain unregistered to vote and to improve the accuracy of California’s voter rolls. While the bill successfully passed the Senate, it stalled in the Assembly Elections Committee.
2022: This Past Year
After the significant changes made in 2021, the Legislature made additional minor changes to election laws in 2022.
- A 1619 adds notices to the paper and online voter registration forms that let voters know that their signature on the paper form, or their signature on file with the DMV, in the case of online registration, would be used as a comparison signature to verify any future mail ballots the voter submits.
- A 1631 requires counties to post polling locations with bilingual poll workers online.
- S 1131 protects election workers from harassment by providing them with avenues to keep their personal information protected from public disclosure.
- A 2815 requires counties to place a dropbox on certain California university system campuses within their jurisdiction for any election held while the campus is in session.
- A 2841 improves existing voter list maintenance processes to require counties to provide advance notice to voters before canceling their registration for mental incapacity, incarceration, death, or an extended period of voter inactivity.
- Yet again, the Assembly failed to pass S 583 which would have shifted the existing front-end AVR system to a safer, more efficient, and more effective back-end system. The bill again stalled in the Assembly Elections Committee.
- As part of the requirements of A 796, the secretary of state’s office launched a Motor Voter Task Force to consult with the DMV and outside experts on the effective implementation of California’s automatic voter registration system.