By Sen. Alex Padilla.
This is the second in a series asking California Secretary of State candidates how they would engage California’s Millennial population should they be elected. To read Pete Peterson’s thoughts, click here.
When I turned 18, I didn’t rush out and register to vote.
I didn’t think voting mattered, and most of my friends felt the same. I’m not sure I knew how to go about it, even if I wanted to.
I was working hard to get through my freshman year at MIT.
Enter Mr. Alex Reza, my high school government teacher at San Fernando High. I visited him and his class one day while I was home for summer break. After class, Mr. Reza asked me if I was registered to vote.
When I said I wasn’t registered, he made a compelling case about why voting mattered if I genuinely cared about making a difference in my community.
I finally agreed and told him I would go straight to either a library or a post office to find a registration form. That’s when he pulled a registration form out of his desk drawer and had me fill it out before I left his classroom.
Mr. Reza convinced me voting was meaningful and then made it easy for me to register.
While I’m not a Millennial, I believe this fundamental approach behind my experience, will work with Millennials as well.
We saw one of the highest turnouts in recent years among young voters in 2008, with Barack Obama running for President for the first time. His candidacy resonated with younger voters and made them believe that their vote would make a difference. While we can’t legislate more exciting candidates, we can do more to show voters that every vote matters.
We need to do more to make information easily available about what’s on the ballot, to show Millennials (and others) why voting matters. Voters search for and obtain information in a variety of ways. Accordingly voting information should be available in a variety of mediums. For example, in the primary, one of the Democratic candidates for Secretary of State, Derek Cressman, proposed creating an app with the voter information pamphlet, videos from candidates, and other content about candidates and measures.
On voter registration, we’ve made great strides in California with the launch of online voter registration.
Voter registration forms have been available at DMV offices for many years. I authored SB 35, which expanded and strengthened “Motor Voter” in California, by increasing the government agencies offering seamless voter registration for eligible Californians as they interact with government.
And when the VoteCal statewide voter database is in place in 2016, we will be able to permit eligible voters to register on Election Day itself. I also support pre-registration for young citizens. Under this system, a 15-year-olds could pre-register, and when they turn 18, they would automatically appear on the rolls.
We’ve seen higher turnouts among vote-by-mail voters and a new pilot program can give us important data about increasing vote-by-mail turnout. A bill I supported authorizes a pilot program for San Diego special elections. Every voter will get a ballot in the mail with return postage paid. Regional voting centers would be set up for extended early voting before election day. We’ll learn whether postage is a barrier to voting and whether convenient regional voting centers lift a barrier.
County Registrars around the state are working to reach millennials and younger generations even before they are eligible to vote. Many counties, including Los Angeles County, recruit students to be poll workers. In Placer, the registrar visits every high school every year to speak to students about voting.
I know that every good idea isn’t hatched near the Capitol. That’s why I’ve visited with county elections officials in every one of California’s 58 counties, to learn what’s working on the ground. I’ll keep listening and learning as your Secretary of State, so we can work together to motivate more millennials – and other voters – to register and get to the polls.