At this very moment, you could be using the Internet for something more productive than Facebook. As of last week, California allows state residents to register to vote online. This translates into easier access to the voting process for all Californians, but more importantly, it is a change rife with opportunity for the voting demographic that is arguably most connected to the online world: college students.
USC students who want to register to vote no longer need to visit the Student Government Office, pick up a voter registration form, fill it out and mail it in; registration is a click away. All you need to do is to visit the secretary of state’s website and fill out a registration form with your date of birth, the last four digits of your Social Security number and your driver’s license or ID card’s number. The system will search the Department of Motor Vehicles database to verify your information, and you sign off on it electronically.
The most tangible benefit of the online system is the direct potential for increased voter participation, something especially important in a state where more than a quarter of eligible voters are unregistered, according to the Los Angeles Times. Even more important is what it means for the college-age cohort — one that consistently has the lowest voter turnout of all age groups. In the last presidential election, which was touted as one for which students came out in droves, still fewer than half of college-aged voters cast ballots.
Whether the trend of college students’ low voter turnout is because of political apathy, distrust of the government or not having enough time to labor through a registration form, these numbers must change. The option of online registration in California makes this change a very real and feasible possibility.
Despite the appeal of time-saving convenience, online registration is not without its problems. Unlike other states with online voter registration, such as Arizona, California’s system does not ask for proof of citizenship. Critics of the online system worry that non-citizens will be more likely to attempt to cast ballots by registering online. But this is not a new concern unique to online voter registration; this problem has existed before in elections where voters registered on paper.
Moving registration online might, in fact, actually make the process more secure. Similar to the electronically verified signature on credit and debit cards, online registration allows the state to confirm voter information through expansive databases. Not only does this save time, but it also reduces cost. The Sacramento Bee reported in Arizona that every online registration saved the state 80 cents relative to paper registration. Considering California`s population of nearly 40 million people, California’s move online has the potential to provide a much-needed bolster to a state in financial crisis.
The Internet can and should be used as an active tool of democracy. College students, as children of the digital generation, should support it more than any other group. If you’re a California resident who is eligible to vote and you’re still unregistered, get online before the Oct. 22 deadline so you can make a change come November.
To register, visit the secretary of state’s website at www.sos.ca.gov.
Veronica An is an undeclared freshman.