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Politics

California’s voter registration deadline has passed, but not for new U.S. citizens

New citizen registers to vote
Thomas Macariola, center, fills out a voter registration form Oct. 26 after a naturalization ceremony in Sacramento.
(Sophia Bollag / Los Angeles Times)

Alex De Leon, an immigrant from Guatemala, was among more than 400 people naturalized Wednesday at a ceremony a few blocks from the Capitol building in Sacramento. After the program concluded, he walked outside and filled out his voter registration papers at a booth staffed by Republican Party volunteers near the entrance. 

The voter registration deadline for most Californians was Monday. But people like De Leon who become naturalized citizens after the deadline are allowed to register and vote until polls close on election day if they provide documentation proving their citizenship.

De Leon, who has lived in the U.S. for nearly two decades, said he became a citizen so he could vote in the presidential election.

"[I’m] becoming a citizen to make my voice count,” said De Leon, 30, who runs his own photography and video business. “It’s very clear … who is going to benefit the Latino people —, the immigrants in this country — so I’m definitely voting for Hillary Clinton.”

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Volunteers from the Democratic and Republican parties set up booths outside the ceremony to help the new citizens fill out voter registration forms and explain their parties’ platforms.

To vote, people who have become citizens after the deadline must bring proof of citizenship and California residency to show to an official at a county elections office. As a precaution against voter fraud, they’re not allowed to vote at a neighborhood polling place, by mail or with an absentee ballot.

Volunteers outside the naturalization ceremony explained to the new citizens the additional regulations they would have to follow, and handed out papers with the addresses of county election offices across the state.

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California has only allowed new citizens to register up until the election since 2012. Two previous governors vetoed earlier iterations of the policy, citing logistical concerns about allowing someone to register to vote on election day. The 2012 law allows people who become citizens by election day to vote regardless of the timing of their naturalization ceremony.

“The new citizens actually take advantage of it and don’t take it for granted,” said Mary Park, a Republican volunteer from Tracy. “They actually want to vote and they know more sometimes than our [American-born] citizens.”

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Thomas Macariola, who is originally from the Philippines and works at a home for the elderly, registered to vote outside the ceremony as well. 

He said he hadn’t had a chance to look at all 17 propositions on the November ballot, but planned to vote no on Proposition 61, a measure to regulate prescription drug pricing, out of concern for how it might affect drug prices for veterans. He plans to support Proposition 64, the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, because he thinks the state should benefit from increased tax revenue from the pot industry.

The 24-year-old has also made up his mind about the presidential election.

“I care about voting for Hillary, because out of the two candidates she has a more clear plan on making this country great,” said Macariola, who has lived in the U.S. for 10 years. “Donald Trump seems to be really unclear on his plan.”

Outside the ceremony, many of the new citizens posed for pictures with life-size cutouts of Clinton, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama by the Democrats’ voter registration booth.

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Like many others who became citizens in Wednesday’s ceremony, Maria de Lourdes, a 42-year-old who works in manufacturing, said she planned to vote for Clinton.

She was among more than 100 new citizens from Mexico at the ceremony, the largest group from any one country. De Lourdes, who has lived in the United States for 12 years, said her husband and two children attended the ceremony to see her become a citizen.

“I’m really excited for my kids, for my husband, for me, for my family and for everything,” she said, beaming at her two children, 11 and 7. “I just want all people to participate in this election.”

sophia.bollag@latimes.com

Follow @sophiabollag on Twitter and sign up for our daily Essential Politics newsletter.

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