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Despite big gains in LA County, voter registration is lagging across California

Despite big gains in LA County, voter registration is lagging across California
Studentsregister to vote at Esteban Torres High School in Los Angeles on May 4, 2015. (Los Angeles Times)

Thousands more Californians are registered to vote than were four years ago. You might think that's good news, considering all the efforts underway to increase voter participation. But it's actually a negative because there are also a lot more Californians today than there were four years ago — and they are registering at a lower rate.

In January 2012, 72% of Californians were signed up to vote, according to state records. As of January 2016, only 70% were registered. This is dismaying considering what is at stake in the upcoming presidential election, but there is still time to register for the June 7 primary. The deadline is May 23.

Happily, the perpetual battle to encourage people to register will soon be history in California, which last year passed a "motor voter" law under which qualified Californians will be automatically signed up when they receive or renew a driver's license. That won't help this election year, though. VoteCal, a new database of state voters, must be fully functional and the Department of Motor Vehicles must have regulations and systems in place first. Even then, it will take some years before the automatic registration system reaches all potential voters who drive.

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Until then, California can continue to boost turnout by making it easier to vote. SB 450, a bill by Sens. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), could do that. It would send a mail-in ballot to all registered voters and set up centralized voting centers and ballot drop-off spots that would be open several days before election day. Similar improvements in Colorado have increased voter participation in that state.

There is a silver lining in the disappointing registration numbers: Los Angeles County's voter registration increased by 10%, or nearly half a million people. That fact is tempered by the reality that, with such historically dismal election turnout numbers, L.A. needs all the help it can get.

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