Capitol Tracker: First new California law of 2020 allows last-minute voter registration changes

New rule could affect one-quarter of registered voters

Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) introduced legislation to allow voters to change party preference up until Election Day. The bill was signed by the governor last week and take effect immediately. (Contributed)
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A new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week — the first bill he signed in 2020 — allows for last minuted changes in voter registration up until and including California’s primary Election Day that is two weeks away on March 3.

The legislation, SB 207, authored by state Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), allows for voters to change party preference or their residential address.

“Reducing long wait lines for our constituents and ensuring a commonsense process for our local clerks and election officials is critical to a transparent and successful electoral process at polling locations in my district and throughout the state,” Hurtado said in a prepared statement.

There are an estimated 5.4 million voters in California registered a “No Party Preference.” Voters with that designation needed to request a specific ballot to vote in the primary election from among the registers party tickets: Republican, Democratic, American Independent, Green, Peace and Freedom or Libertarian. Those who did not submit that request before the deadline, if this bill was not made law, could have been prevented from voting.

In Humboldt County, there are nearly 19,000 voters who are registered without a party preference, according to information provided by Kelly Sanders, the registrar of voters, last week. That accounts for nearly one-quarter of local voters. (It’s unclear how many local NPP voters did not request a specific party ticket because the local election office was closed Monday for the President’s Day holiday.)

“All voters should be able to cast a ballot for the presidential candidate they prefer,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who co-authored SB 207, in a statement. “We know more Californians are registering as non-partisan, independent voters. This new law will streamline the process for these voters in the March primary so that there’s less hassle around voting for the candidate they support, especially if it requires them changing their political party to do so.”

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla expects the March 3 primary to have high levels of voter turnout. Additionally, while in past years California held its primary in June, and was considered an afterthought in terms of impact on candidate runs, this year’s March date is likely to be instrumental as part of Super Tuesday.

“While voters have become accustomed to the ‘top-two vote-getter’ system for federal and state races, the rules for voting in a presidential primary are different,” said Padilla in a statement. “Allowing voters to easily update their political party preference will be especially important for the March 3rd Primary. Streamlining political party preference changes will help keep wait times at the polls to a minimum and help voters get their preferred ballot.”

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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