On October 11, 2009, a bill to uniformly set California’s voter registration age at 17 was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This legislation does not change the voting age; it simply changes the age at which one may register to vote. Prior to the adoption of AB 30, California’s voter registration law was inconsistent and confusing: some 17 year olds could in fact register to vote (those who would turn 18 before the next election) while the rest could not.
AB 30 had broad support ranging from the California Association of Student Councils (CASC) to the California chapter of the AARP. Student leaders from CASC, along with an AARP representative and leaders from “good government” organizations met with an aide to the Governor to press for the administration’s support of the bill. In the highly charged and partisan atmosphere of Sacramento politics, the fate of the bill was anything but certain. Despite the fact that a number of other states have set or lowered the registration age to 17, despite the favorable columns in support of AB 30 from SoCal and NorCal, and notwithstanding the many benefits that this legislation would bring to California, there was a concern that this non-partisan issue would become a victim of partisan politics. Although this type of “pre-registration” legislation has been embraced by “red” states and “blue” states, AB 30 did not win any Republican support in the California legislature. The concern, therefore, was that Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, would follow the lead of the Republicans in the legislature.
In the end, however, the Governor must have decided the issue on its merits and, by doing so, will open the door to a new era of civic engagement for the youth of California.