California's new one-click online voter registration went live early Wednesday, but before Secretary of State Debra Bowen could officially make that announcement at an 11:30 a.m. news conference, 3,000 new voters had used the system to register.
That response was triggered only by "a few tweets" from some county elections officials who spread the news via Twitter earlier in the morning, Bowen said.
The sign-ups indicate the kind of response she anticipates from the state's first paperless voter registration process, she said. It involves going to http://www.registertovote.ca.gov, filling out the necessary information and clicking "send."
"This is great news for democracy," she said. "One of the main reasons people don't register to vote is because they are never asked to do so. Now, someone can ask them with an email that includes a link to online registration."
Until Wednesday, Californians could fill out a form online but had to print, sign and mail a paper document to complete the registration.
California becomes the 12th state to offer one-click online registration, a step that had been delayed until the development of an electronic system that links records from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Secretary of State's Office with elections offices in each of the state's 58 counties.
Registrants must provide their driver's license numbers and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, which come from documents available only to U.S. citizens. Elections officials can verify the information with DMV records and also obtain a digitized signature from the DMV to use to verify voters' signatures on mail-in ballots or on sign-in rolls at voting precincts.
Bowen said submitting a registration form online is not "automatic" registration and that the forms will be subject to the same verification process used in the handling of paper registration forms.
Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, said there are an estimated 23.7 million eligible voters in the state and that 6.5 million are not registered.
Bowen said she expects the new system will quickly start making a dent in reducing that number.
"Now, nobody has an excuse not to register to vote," she said. "I expect we'll see a big surge immediately."
In addition to the added convenience to the public, elections officials say the system will reduce costs to counties by eliminating the need to enter data from paper voter registration forms into elections computers and by ending mistakes caused by misreading a voter's handwriting.
Because those who register online in the days immediately before the Oct. 22 deadline are more likely to have their names recorded in time to be listed on voter rolls at polling precincts, Bowen said, the change also will reduce the number of provisional ballots cast on Election Day.
Phillip Ung, policy advocate for California Common Cause, which advocated for establishment of online registration, said his organization is ready to put it to work.
"We've been working with student groups, and they all have their iPads out and ready to go," he said.
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