By the time the next presidential election comes around, California should see significantly higher turnout among student voters.
Through some landmark legislation, the state took remarkable steps toward easing restrictions on voting. A system for online voter registration was launched last Wednesday as the result of a previously passed state bill, while another recently approved bill will allow for same-day registration. The latter won’t go into effect until the California secretary of state certifies a statewide database of voter registration information, which won’t happen for a few years. Still, both bills will ease barriers on voting.
College students will be particularly affected by these changes. Students’ immersion in the Internet and busy schedules will make them more inclined to register online rather than filling out a form and mailing it the old-fashioned way. And when same-day registration does go into effect, students — many of whom change addresses more than usual — will not have to worry about missing a cumbersome deadline.
Data already demonstrate that shifting toward more online-based registration has a significant impact on student turnout. When the state adopted printable registration forms, more than 10,000 students took advantage of the easier process in 2010, its first full year of implementation. That impact should be felt even more with a completely Internet-based system. But students aren’t the only ones who will feel the effects of these bills — many other voters who might have otherwise been discouraged from voting due to the many obstacles involved will benefit as well.
Additionally, it is encouraging to see California simplifying voting at a time when other states are attempting to make it more difficult. Voting is a critical power for citizens in a democracy, and one that must be as accessible as possible. Nine other states already approved same-day registration, and more should follow suit.
Yet a simplified system doesn’t eliminate the need for get-out-the-vote campaigns. If anything, it reaffirms the necessity of such outreach. Groups like CALPIRG and the ASUC Vote Coalition still must make students aware of the resources and educate them about the state’s registration changes.
College-aged citizens are historically underrepresented at the polls, despite the age group’s significant portion of eligible voters. Students have the potential to make a serious impact on election outcomes. And with the state of California doing everything it can to facilitate that, there’s no reason not to.