Election Watchdog Warns Against California’s Expansion of Same-Day Voter Registration

October 22, 2019 Updated: October 22, 2019

After California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that would expand same-day voter registration to all polling places for the 2020 election and beyond, a nonpartisan election watchdog has shared concerns about the new law.

Senate Bill 72, authored by state Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), reads in part: “This bill would specifically require, rather than permit, the county elections official to offer conditional voter registration and provisional voting at all satellite offices of the county elections official and all polling places in the county.”

Previously, same-day voter registration could only be done at county election offices.

Allowing all polling places to hand out same-day voter registration could lead to mistakes being made by polling place volunteers, as well as potential voter fraud, the Election Integrity Project California (EIPCa) told The Epoch Times.

“This really allows for a great deal more fraudulent voting and a lot more error on the part of the election process that could terminate ineligible ballots that have been counted,” said Ruth Weiss, EIPCa’s director of legislative oversight.

“The reason is that poll workers are already extremely overworked and stressed. … Depending on the county, because training is not consistent throughout the state, they get very little training. In some counties, none of the people there had any training at all. In other counties, all of them are trained.”

The bill passed in the state Senate (30–10) and the state Assembly (62–17) almost entirely along party lines in both houses. Two Republicans, Ling Ling Chang in the Senate and Tyler Diep in the Assembly, joined Democrats in supporting the bill’s passage.

“This simply enfranchises more people to vote,” said Umberg in an Oct. 9 press release. “The presidential race is one thing, but this is going to make an even bigger difference in turnout for local races. This bill makes it possible for same-day registration at polling places as well as voting centers. California is catching up with so many other states by making our elections as accessible as possible. No one should have to travel long distances and wait in lines for many hours to exercise their right to vote.”

In 2018, roughly 57,000 Californians cast their ballots provisionally by registering at county elections offices on Election Day. According to Weiss, despite same-day registration ballots only being allowed to be cast at county elections offices, there were a number of cases in which poll workers allowed voters to register at regular polling places, despite the law prohibiting it.

“We saw a lot of poll workers accept registrations at the polls, even though it was not legal. We saw them not only accept the registration at the polls, but we saw them give non-provisional ballots to those same-day registrants,” said Weiss.

Concerns about potential voter fraud have been at the forefront of this law, in particular with EIPCa.

“A person can go in and register under a fraudulent name and Social Security number. The people at the polling places aren’t going to have the ability to check to see whether that’s correct or not,” Weiss said.

She said poll workers could make mistakes and give the wrong ballot, and that while some counties have effective ways of ensuring that these types of mistakes don’t happen, not all are prepared to ensure that all their poll workers are aware of all the protocols.

While Weiss believes that same-day registration, in general, is a good practice to ensure that all eligible voters have a chance to vote, she says it hasn’t been done properly in California.

A major element of SB-72 is the fact that it also allows for voters to change party registration on the same day as well. Weiss expressed concern that this could be used as a tool to undermine certain candidates in closed party primaries.

“If there’s a party in California that decides to have a closed primary of the two major parties, they do that because they don’t want people from the other party to be able to manipulate their candidates. In a presidential year in which a nominee with a closed primary is open for debate, if there was a very divisive battle and the other party didn’t have a problem, then it would be easy to organize efforts to get people to same-day register and change their registration just for the purpose of voting in a different primary and change it right back afterward,” she said.

EIPCa has also taken a firm stance against the California Voter’s Choice Act, ballot harvesting, California’s New Motor Voter Program, as well as other laws and policies that the group says complicate the voting process and encourage fraud and manipulation.

“In the last few election cycles, there have been so many changes in the election process, and a lot of them are hitting the voters by the broadside because when a law is passed, generally the people don’t know about the changes. There’s not a good process of letting people know what the new laws are. People are showing up at the polls and not having a clue as to what’s going on. What you have is a systematic effort to create chaos in our electoral process,” Weiss said.

SB-72 is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, in time for California’s March 3 primary and for the Nov. 3 general election.

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