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Responsive Gov’s Grade TL;DR

Although the California Assembly made several pro-voter improvements to its election code, once again, the Assembly failed to upgrade its automatic voter registration system to a more secure, efficient, and improved system for the third year in a row, leaving more than 4.5 million eligible voters unregistered to vote in the state. California also failed to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, ERIC, that would help ensure the state’s voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date. Although the state has a reputation as a national leader on elections, other western states have continued to pass more substantial pro-voter policies while California falls behind. Consequently, California received a C on this year’s progress report.

Looking Back

Where California Started at the Beginning of 2023

  • Automatic Voter Registration: Hard Stop
  • Online Voter Registration: DMV ID
  • Same-Day Registration: Yes
  • Restoration of Rights: Prison Disenfranchisement
  • Vote by Mail: No-excuse
  • Electronic Registration Information Center Member: No
  • Early Voting Opportunities: Regular Ballot Early Voting
  • ID Requirements: No Document Required

Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for California as of 2022, we considered the state a top tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2023 activity against other top tier states.

How Our Tier Compares

  • COVI (2022): 6th
  • EPI Score (2020): 46th
  • CLC State Scorecard: 9/10
  • MAP Democracy Rating (2022): HIGH

2023: This Past Year

Legislative Action

The Assembly passed pro-voter legislation that makes changes to a wide range of election-related processes — from mail ballot cure procedures to expanding access for disabled voters to making ballot more user-friendly.

  • SB 77 improves the cure process for mail ballot deficiencies by requiring clerks to attempt to contact voters via phone, email, or text in addition to regular mail if the voter has provided contact information for those methods.
  • AB 292 requires clerks to provide additional information to voters that have declined to indicate a party preference on how to request a partisan political ballot for a primary.
  • AB 398 removes the requirement that a voter requesting a replacement ballot first complete a form under penalty of perjury affirming their ballot was lost, destroyed, or never received.
  • AB 545 expands in-person voting options for voters with a disability to require a curbside voting option.
  • AB 626 allows voters to bring their unvoted mail ballot to the polls and cast it in person so long as the polling place can access real time county voter information to confirm that the voter has not already cast a ballot in that election.
  • AB 1037 allows voters to verify their mail ballot signatures electronically.
  • AB 1219 improves ballot design and ballot instructions to make them more user-friendly.
  • AB 1539 makes it a misdemeanor to vote, or attempt to vote, in an election in California and another state that is held on the same day.
  • SB 485 expands existing felonies for interfering with an election and/or voter intimidation to include additional prohibited actions.
  • However, the Assembly failed to take action on two important bills: one that would have made significant improvements to the state’s troubled automatic voter registration system and another that would help the state improve the accuracy of the voter rolls.
    • SB 299 (previously SB 846) would have transitioned the state to a substantially safer, more efficient, and more effective Secure AVR used by states like Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada, helping to address the fact that more than 4.5 million eligible California citizens remain unregistered to vote and to improve the accuracy of California’s voter rolls. The bill has passed the Senate, but remains pending in the Assembly, with action possible next year.
    • AB 1206 would have required the secretary of state join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC).

Implementation Action

  • As part of the requirements of AB 796, the secretary of state’s office launched a Motor Voter Task Force to consult with the DMV and outside experts on the effective implementation of California’s automatic voter registration system. The committee and the secretary of state’s office produced a report on the current AVR system, noting that there are still nearly 5 million eligible unregistered people in California and that the current system has a declination rate of more than 50% among eligible unregistered people who conduct AVR transactions, with a declination rate of 46% among 16 and 17-year-olds eligible for pre-registration.