80% of eligible Californians are registered to vote, and Dems are way out in front

By John Wildermuth

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ROBYN BECK/AFP / TNS

Californians are signing up to vote in totals not seen since the 1950s, and with one of the most highly anticipated elections in years coming into sight, a growing number of them are Democrats.

Registration numbers released this week in advance of the March 3 presidential primary show that Democrats now make up 44.1% of the state’s 20.3 million voters, up from 43.1% in February.

Republicans represent 23.6% of the voters, the same as in February, but they are losing ground by standing still.

A report by Secretary of State Alex Padilla found that as of Oct. 1, more than 80% of eligible Californians were registered to vote, the highest percentage since 1952. That’s thanks in part to programs such as the motor voter law that register people when they do business with the state.

“California is a shining example of the power of building a more inclusive democracy,” Padilla said.

But the registration totals mean different things, depending on the partisan tilt. For Democrats, they’re a sign the party is growing, albeit slowly, in the face of a growing wave of young independent voters who are shunning all organized parties.

“These new registration numbers are great for our democracy,” Rusty Hicks, chair of the California Democratic Party, said in a statement. “That said, the (party) is taking nothing for granted and we are going to work as hard as we can to turn this record number of eligible voters into a record turnout in March and November.”

For Republicans, even the good registration news is bad.

The new numbers show that as of Oct. 1, Republicans had taken back control of Orange and San Luis Obispo counties after losing them to the Democrats earlier this year. The loss of Orange County, long a nationwide symbol of conservative Republican values, had been especially embarrassing for the party, and it pushed GOP registration efforts to reverse that trend.

However, since October, both those counties have flipped back to the Democrats. In Orange County, the 34% to 32% registration edge Republicans had last month has changed to a 35% to 34% Democratic lead, according to figures released this week by the county registrar. In San Luis Obispo County, the GOP’s 148-voter registration lead has become a 1,305-voter margin for the Democrats.

The most ominous news for the GOP might be that the percentage of no party preference voters dropped, even as Democratic numbers grew. In a deep blue state where recent polls have shown that about two-thirds of adults disapprove of President Trump’s job performance, that could indicate uncommitted voters are making a choice in advance of the November 2020 presidential election.

“We always see voters increasingly register with the parties when we get closer to a primary,” said Paul Mitchell of Political Data, which provides registration information to political parties and campaigns. “Many voters actually still believe you have to be registered Dem to vote in the Dem primary, and of course, you do have to be registered (Republican) to vote in the Rep primary.”

The Democratic presidential primary is open to independent voters, who must ask their county registrar to mail them a Democratic ballot or request one at the polls.

The registration numbers show the effectiveness of California’s motor voter registration efforts and other programs to boost voting. The 80% registration of eligible voters is well above the 70% seen in January 2016 which, like now, was five months before the presidential primary.

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