Governor Gavin Newsom will decide whether or not to sign the first bill of the year to land on his desk in the coming weeks after the state Senate passed Senate Bill 207 28-9 on Thursday.
SB 207, authored by Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), would change some of the methods and the time frame on which voters can change their party preference in elections. The current law only accepts voter registrations 15 days or more before an election, while any received after are only ‘conditional’. Any change of address or party also requires a new registration. Under SB 207, new registrations and party changes would be accepted up until when polls close on election day. Any registration or changes to an address or party would be accepted virtually instantaneous and will no longer be considered ‘conditional’.
After having been largely stalled last year, SB 207 returned with a vengeance in January. Assembly and Senate votes within days of each other in early February has made the bill one of the rare few bills to come before the Governor before Valentine’s Day.
A growing number of Californian voters who are independent or have no party preference, a voting group that now has more members than registered Republicans in the state, was one of the primary reasons for being fast-tracked to Assembly and Senate voting.
“We need to ensure California’s nonpartisan and independent voters are able to cast a ballot for the presidential candidate they prefer,” said bill supporter Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) in Sacramento on Thursday. “Voting ought to be easy, and AB 207 will streamline the process to allow these independent voters less hassle than normal when voting for their preferred candidate.”
Problems of wait times, lines, and some disorganization at poll places during the 2016 election also played a role in the creation of SB 207. Memories of 2 hour long voting lines have still lingered four years later, and it’s hoped that an easier way to register to vote or change personal voting information can ease that.
“The 2016 presidential primary highlighted various issues faced by election officials and voters in navigating California’s electoral process,” explained Senator Hurtado in a statement. “SB 207 will address those issues by providing access to voting bill that will reduce wait times at the polls for all voters by streamlining the polling place process for last minute changes to address party preference.”
Worries about a repeat of the delays similar to what the Iowa Caucus experienced earlier this week also increased support for the bill. Supporters and officials hope for a signature before March 3rd to help quell any fears of delayed results.
“[Elections officials] need every tool at their disposal to create an efficient, positive voting experiences for Californians,” noted California Secretary of State Alex Padilla earlier this week.
If passed, it’s widely expected that many people will reregister as a Democrat to vote in the primary on March 3rd. The number of voters switching to be Republicans is expected to be marginal as there is an incumbent with no major opponent in the Republican primaries this year, a more difficult registration procedure for Republicans, and the state seeing a general decline of Republican registrations in recent years.
SB 207 is currently on Governor Newsom’s desk awaiting either his signature or his veto.