SACRAMENTO (CBSLA/AP) – California’s voter registration has hit an all-time high ahead of the November election, with more than 19 million people on the voting rolls, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported Tuesday.
Nearly 76 percent of those eligible to vote were registered as of Sept. 7, the largest share in September since the 1996 presidential election, which had 77 percent.
Californians are increasingly turning away from political parties and registering as “no party preference” voters, a trend that has gained steam over the past two decades.
Republicans and Democrats both saw their ranks shrink between May – before the primary – and September, while the number of unaffiliated voters rose. Just under 44 percent of registered voters were Democrats, 27 percent were unaffiliated and 25 percent were Republicans.
State officials unveiled a redesigned voter registration card earlier this year to make the process of registering easier and clearer.
The new card (PDF) is more logical and uses more conversational language than the old form, Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. Officials said the changes make it easier for people who struggle with reading comprehension or eyesight problems to correctly register to vote.
Paul Mitchell, head of the bipartisan firm Political Data Inc., attributes much of the rise in both registered and unaffiliated voters to a new California program that automatically signs people up or updates their address at the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless they opt out.
The computerized form allows people to select a political party from a drop-down menu or check a box declining to join a political party.
Mitchell’s data, including surveys of people who have registered this way, suggest many don’t realize they are the updating their voter registration. Rather than reading the form closely, they are checking boxes to get out of the DMV more quickly, and many aren’t bothering with the drop-down box, he said.
“They’re treating their voter registration like I treat the form at the car rental place,” Mitchell said.
The major parties have lost members between May and September in every election cycle since 2002. Still, Democratic registration is up since the 2016 election, while Republican registration is down.
Padilla said people can still sign up until Oct. 22.
“The next step for our registered Californians is turning out to vote,” Padilla said in a statement. “The general election is next month, so it’s time for voters to make a plan to vote, either in person or by mail.”
While top-of-the-ticket races for governor and U.S. Senate have been relatively sleepy, California has several hotly contested races being watched nationally that could determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.
Nearly 835,000 more people were registered 60 days before the election than two years ago, a sizable jump even though presidential years like 2016 generally see higher levels of engagement. Registration is up by almost 1.5 million people since the last election for governor in 2014.