March 5, 2013 By Steve Towns
It may have been brief, but California’s one-month experiment with online voter registration running up to the November general election told us a lot. In particular, it told us that if there was any doubt about citizen desire to register online, California’s experience erased it.
From the time the new registration system opened online on Sept. 19 to its close on Oct. 21, more than half of the 1.2 million voters who registered did so through the new online system. It was undoubtedly the state’s most popular voter registration option.
“We thought that was quite striking,” says Mindy Romero, project director for the California Civic Engagement Project. The research organization, part of the Center for Regional Change at the University of California, Davis, is combing through the November numbers to measure the impact of online registration on the state’s electorate. Based on what the group has seen so far, Romero says it’s likely that online registration will be the state’s dominant voter registration option from now on.
Although online registration was popular with all registrants, it was particularly effective at pulling younger citizens into the state’s voting pool. Residents under age 25 accounted for 30 percent of all online registrants -- helping to drive an 8 percent increase in voter registration in that age bracket, Romero says.
Online registrants also went to the polls, she added, contradicting the notion that citizens using a more convenient registration option may be too lazy or apathetic to cast a ballot. Instead, voters who registered online turned out at a higher rate -- about 8 percentage points higher -- than those who registered through other methods.