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California Needs Automated Student Voter Registration

Participation in the democratic process is plummeting. Last November, a meager half of California’s registered voters cast ballots. With the November 2016 race looming, every vote will count if we want to elect candidates who reflect our values. At a time when presidential candidates are attacking our communities, democracy is only representative when we let it represent us.

Unfortunately, barriers to democratic participation cannot be overcome with simple willpower. Young Californians between the ages of 18 and 24, who cast four percent of all votes in November 2015, move often, requiring multiple updates to voter registration. As these young voters, who represent the diversity of our Golden State, move between home, college and work, many fall off the voter rolls altogether.

To find creative solutions to issues facing Californians today, last fall our Assembly District 17 office welcomed constituents into the legislative process with our “There Ought to Be a Law” contest. The winners were Paul Monge, a Mission resident, and his U.C. Berkeley Law classmate Cindy Dinh, who presented us with empirical data, legal precedent, and a feasibility analysis that became the basis of a solution for the challenges of student voting. Co-authored with Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), we have introduced Paul and Cindy’s idea as Assembly Bill 2455, the “Student Voting Act.”

Building on California’s new Motor Voter Act (legislation passed in October 2015 that automatically adds people to the voter rolls when they obtain or renew a California driver’s license or state identification card), the Student Voting Act will take crucial steps toward turning our public colleges into automated voter registration centers. AB 2455 will require the California State University and California Community College systems to create an online link between class enrollment pages and the Secretary of State’s voter registration page. The University of California will be encouraged to do the same, paving the way for a voter registration system that is accessible and aimed at young voters. The resulting surplus of resources originally meant for registration efforts can then be turned back to the crucial purpose of encouraging voter turnout and civic participation in California.

The debate around voting opportunities is often framed as a battle between electoral integrity and electoral access; AB 2455 addresses both issues. It ensures that voter rolls are up to date and ever growing, creating a vital entry point to register tens of thousands of new voters while also ensuring that students already registered do not fall off voter rolls as they move around the state. While voting rights are on the defensive in many states, we’re proud to say California continues to lead the way in modernizing voter engagement and removing obstacles to democratic participation.

With the help of many supporters, including the Student Senate for California Community Colleges and the University of California Student Association, AB 2455 has passed the Assembly Elections and Appropriations Committees and now heads to the Assembly floor. Our bill will reaffirm California’s lasting commitment to the inclusion of young people in every step of the democratic process. To support our efforts to pass AB 2455 or for more information, please contact our office at (415) 557-3013 or email assemblymember.chiu@asm.ca.gov.

A former civil rights attorney, Assemblymember David Chiu represents eastern San Francisco. A San Francisco native, Paul Monge is a law student at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

Story by: David Chiu