Online registration could lead to increased young voter turnout

With a new online voter registration system that launched last Wednesday, registration to vote in California is now only a click away.

In a state with 6.5 million eligible residents  who have not yet registered to vote, the 3,000 registrations in the first 12 hours of the system’s launch bodes well for a boost in turnout for the Nov. 6 presidential election.

The online system matches the information provided on the registration form with information pulled from the Department of Motor Vehicles database. Before, Californians were required to mail in signed forms to an official election office to be listed on the voter rolls, a process that takes several weeks.

Ange-Marie Hancock, an associate professor of political science and gender studies, said the new system should improve turnout.

“I do think that it will help a lot, especially for new voters — people who are just turning 18,” Hancock said.

Young voters historically turn out in smaller numbers, a fact that online registration seeks to change in the upcoming presidential elections. The perceived hassle of voter registration could be one of the reasons for this trend, according to Ann Crigler, a professor of political science.

“There are a number of reasons,” Crigler said. “[Young voters] don’t have the habit of it. They tend to move around more, and therefore, it’s harder for them to register. They haven’t done it before.”

Yet voter turnouts might not be the only factor affected by online registration. Voting representatives who work for a profit to recruit voters will also be impacted by the change.

“The positive effect will be on the groups that are more familiar with social media, but the more traditional groups that you see at Trader Joe’s will have a harder time with it,” Hancock said.

Many students, however, said they have not heard about the online registration system.

“They need to get the word out that it exists and that it’s an option in order for people to take advantage of it,” said Rachel Barton, a graduate student studying social work and a registered voter in California. “It needs to be publicized so people will do it.”

Some students, like Max Sherman, a registered voter and a freshman majoring in cinematic arts, voiced optimism about making registration more accessible.

“[It’s] hard to get to places where it’s easier to vote, so if you can register from your phone or wherever you are, it’s much easier,” Sherman said. “If you don’t have a car, [aren’t] familiar with public transportation, don’t have a lot of money or didn’t want to go around, busy all the time, doing it online is much easier than having to go to the post office to get the forms and do it.”

Just knowing that an online option was available encouraged some students like Alex Sleight, a graduate student studying occupational therapy, to register to vote.

“I’m actually going to check it out online,” Sleight said. “I’m not joking. Just the idea of having to fill out paperwork was super overwhelming.”

According to Hancock, past efforts to boost voter turnout for young voters have been successful when they were connected to something students already wanted. Hancock cited the Motor Voter Act of 1993, which asked individuals if they wanted to register to vote when they received their driver’s license, as an example.

“I’m not sure if online registration will be as successful because it’s not tied necessarily to something that young people already want, like the Motor Voter Act would tie to a driver’s license,” Hancock said.

Crigler said expanding registration is only the first step in increasing turnout. Registered voters still need to show up on Election Day.

“Any way that’s going to expand people’s opportunity to register should at least help them get through the first barrier, but it’s only the first barrier, because beyond that, they actually have to go out there and vote,” Crigler said. “There’s no guarantee that online registration will make the turnout increase.”

Oct. 22 marks the deadline for voter registration this year.