Election Day registration worries county clerk

A state senator is pushing for Election Day voter registration in California. But the San Luis Obispo County registrar of voters says such a proposal, while doable, is problematic and she hopes the Legislature considers its effects on those who administer voting at the local level.

“I hope that the author is willing to work with the elections community so we can have something that is workable for the voters and the registrars,” county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said.

Rodewald said she has not yet seen the bill, which was introduced this week by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.

“California currently ranks 41st in the nation in voter turnout,” Yee wrote in a news release. “We need to find ways to increase participation in our democracy and allow all citizens the opportunity to vote. Same-day and Election Day registration simply makes sense.”

“The integrity of our democracy is protected when all eligible voters are able to participate,” Yee said.

States that have implemented similar laws have seen a 7 percent increase in voter participation, while voter turnout has declined elsewhere, Yee wrote.

Idaho, New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming have implemented Election Day registration. North Dakota does not require registration, and North Carolina allows registration during early voting up until Election Day.

Yee hopes to hold the first hearing on the bill in March.

Rodewald said clerk-recorders and registrars of voters have been discussing Election Day registration and are working to make it happen. But there are problems that must be considered, she said. The county needs to order ballots ahead of time to have a sufficient number, for example.

How many people will seek to register on Election Day remains an open question, and the number may not be large.

“I believe that most voters are going to register by the deadlines so they can receive the voter information,” Rodewald said. There were 156,154 registered voters in the 2009 special election.

Many voters — more than 50 percent in San Luis Obispo County — vote by mail.

Other states like the system, according to Yee.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie called same-day registration a “no brainer” and said it was more secure because “you have the person right in front of you — not a postcard in the mail,” Yee wrote.

“In November 2008, we saw a lot of citizens try to vote who were turned away,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. “It is vital that we ensure the integrity of our voting system and protect the rights of all citizens to participate in our electoral process.”

Yee’s bill would delete timelines that prevent eligible citizens from registering to vote within 14 days of an election.

The new standard would be phased in leading up to 2013.