It’s long been true that California is a great place for young skateboarders, surfers, radicals and outdoor mall aficionados. But in recent years it’s also become one of the best places in the nation to be a young voter.
Thanks to a number of laws passed since 2013, young Californians are now taught more about voting, and although they can’t vote until they are 18, they can pre-register to vote as 16- and 17-year-olds and have new ways to cast their ballots on Election Day.
Here are answers to a few commonly asked questions regarding how these new laws are changing the landscape for young voters:
I’m a high school student; does my school have to do anything to help me learn about voting and how to register?
Yes. In recent years the Legislature has passed and Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a couple of laws that require high schools to help students register and educate them about voting.
The first was passed in 2013 and requires that voter education information be included in high school American government and civics curriculums. The instruction must include information on the importance of registering to vote in local, state and federal elections; and where and how to access and understand the state voter information pamphlet and other materials.
The second was passed in 2014 and established “high school voter education weeks,” held during the last two weeks in April and September. During these weeks, schools must allow students to register or pre-register to vote on campus. It also encourages schools to identify a handful of students as “voter outreach coordinators.”
The law made California one of only 10 states that require schools to serve as voter registration sites and to open their doors to registration drives.
Other than on my school campus, when, where and how can I register or pre-register to vote?
Pretty much any time, anywhere and in a variety of ways.
Beginning very soon, the easiest way to register will be to either receive or renew your California driver’s license or state ID card at your local DMV, thanks to an addition to the state’s new motor voter law that goes into effect this month. Under the new law, anyone receiving or renewing a driver’s license or getting a state-issued ID is automatically registered or pre-registered to vote.
If you’re not interested in getting a driver’s license or state ID, or if it will be awhile before you have to renew your license, the next-best option is to register online on the Secretary of State’s website.
In recent years, the form has been modified to accommodate homeless people. If you’re a homeless student, you can still register by listing the “cross streets” of a shelter, park or other place where you reside.
You can also pick up a paper form at the county elections office, the post office or your local DMV, fill it out and either mail it to or drop it off at the elections office.
There’s also a decent chance that you’ll stumble across an opportunity to register as you go about your daily life — many organizations routinely set up voter registration tables/booths in places with high pedestrian traffic.
One thing to note: California’s voter registration deadline is 15 days before a primary or general election. But that deadline is a lot softer than it used to be.
What happens if I move away to go to college or for work and either never registered to vote or I am registered at my parents’ address?
This situation has historically been one of the biggest reasons why otherwise well-meaning young people don’t vote, say elections officials.
The years following high school graduation are, for many people, the most transient period of their lives. It is when they are very likely to go off to college, move away for a job or just bounce around from place to place. Previously, the only options for people living this life, but staying in California, would be to change their registration to whatever county they are living in or vote by mail.
But again, the deadline to register in your new county is 15 days before an election. And if you want to stay registered in your old county and vote by mail, you must request an absentee ballot from that county’s elections office. And the elections office must receive the request by mail or by phone at least seven days prior to the election.
Then you must either mail the ballot to your old county’s election office or drop it off at the office in your new county no later than Election Day. Suffice it to say, lots of people miss one or more of these deadlines.
Why haven’t they done anything to make things easier for these folks?
They just did. A law that went into effect in 2017 allows for “conditional voter registration” throughout the state.
Under the law, you can go into a county elections office at any point until the polls close on Election Day and vote even if you are not registered. Your ballot will be put in a special envelope and, as long as you meet all the registration requirements, you will be registered in that county and your vote will count.
It’s important to note that except in a small handful of counties this must be done at the county elections office or at a satellite office if the county is large enough to have satellite offices. You can’t vote in this manner at your neighborhood precinct.
But even that reality is changing. Another new law passed in 2016, called the “Voter’s Choice Act,” authorizes counties to do away with precinct voting systems and adopt a system that establishes dozens of vote centers throughout a county that anyone can vote at regardless of where they live in the county.
This new model, however, is being phased in statewide and only exists now in Sacramento, Napa, Madera, Nevada and San Mateo counties.