Costa Mesa, There’s Still Time!
If we want more people to vote, we have to get them registered. In order to do that, we need to know more about who is registered and who is not.
I live in California. Most people think that California would have a high voter registration rate. They are wrong. California has the third lowest citizen voter registration rate of any state in the country.
Youth voter registration rates are especially low.
Methods to address this problem have included laws to encourage “preregistration” in high schools. In California, preregistration allows eligible 16- and 17-year-olds to sign up, and then they are automatically registered as soon as they turn 18. Many other western states offer preregistration either at age 16 or 17, and the practice is spreading. In 2019, Washington State will offer preregistration to 16- and 17-year-olds.
We still have a long way to go.
In August 2017, Orange County California, which is the third most populous county in the state, had only about 1,000 16- and 17-year-olds who were preregistered. This is out of about 86,000. Not great.
According to newly obtained data from the Orange County Registrar’s office, as of mid-September 2018, more than 9,000 young people were preregistered in Orange County. That’s nice progress. On a percentage basis, however, fewer than 11% of 16- and 17-year-olds in Orange County are preregistered. We know Orange County can do better.
How do we explain this low percentage? One way to start answering this question is to look at the cities and school districts that make up the county.
Among Orange County cities with more than 100,000 residents, Santa Ana and Garden Grove came out on top based on percentage of overall population that is preregistered. In Costa Mesa the percentage of preregistered 16- and 17-year-olds compared to the population as a whole was less than half of the percentages in Santa Ana and Garden Grove.
San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano came out on top by a large margin.
Why? There could be a lot of reasons, but don’t discount people as a driving force. Don’t discount the students themselves, working together to make it happen. In both San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, students organized voter registration drives last spring in which they registered and preregistered hundreds of other students. Their schools and volunteers helped, but the students themselves were a driving force. The results speak for themselves.
Every year, an entirely new group of students becomes eligible to vote. School communities can make a huge difference in helping students see themselves as voters.
Every high school can do better by (a) updating lesson plans to teach students about the availability of preregistration, (b) posting “buttons” on school websites to connect students with voter registration opportunities and information, and (c) supporting student-led civic engagement efforts.
If you doubt that individuals can make a difference, look at these numbers, and ask yourself what you and your school can do to make a difference. California’s deadline to register by mail or online for those eligible to vote in November 2018 is October 22, so there is still time before this deadline to make a big push to encourage registration and preregistration. Schools can support student efforts as part of a broader nonpartisan effort to encourage youth civic engagement.
With a little bit of information, the next steps can suddenly seem incredibly clear. You have more power than you think.
See our chart for more details, which is based on preregistration data obtained from the OC Registrar’s office on September 17, 2018. Cities with high schools that had active efforts after that date may have higher numbers today than shown on the chart.