This coming election year California is seeing a number of major changes that will impact political campaigns. These are significant enough that I wanted to reach out to you and let you know how PDI is working on these issues for our clients.

The reforms set to be implemented this year include:

  • A new vote center model – five counties (Sacramento, San Mateo, Madera, Napa and Nevada) will send every voter a ballot, allowing them to mail it in, return it to a drop-off location, or go into a vote center anywhere in their county to cast their ballot in person.
  • Same Day registration will allow voters who are unregistered to go into the county registrar office, or a satellite location, to complete a conditional registration and vote, even if they missed the 15-day registration deadline.
  • New DMV Registration process takes effect on Monday. This changes the registration process from an opt-in to an opt-out, and could result in two million new registrations by 2020, but the impact on 2018 should be much smaller.
  • Pre-Registration of 16-17 year olds has been ongoing, with the Secretary of State’s office reporting over 100,000 new registrants under this system.

Here is more information on each of these, from a campaign and data perspective.

Vote Center Model

The Vote Center model won’t be used by most campaign and consultants this year because it is only being implemented in five counties, but it is one to closely watch as by 2020 all counties will be able to apply for this transition.

From a campaign standpoint there are a several changes that will take some adjusting.  Here are some of the most important provisions and what PDI is going to be doing for each:

Everyone gets a mail ballot – This sounds simple, and in some parts of the state nearly 65% of votes are cast are by mail.  However, there is also a solid 40% of voters who have only voted in person, and this could be a tough transition for them.

There are also many voters who aren’t used to mailing things in, and may not even know where their stamps are. The law allows counties to pre-pay postage to make the process easier San Mateo will this election cycle but that isn’t universal. In the future, districts that overlap counties could find that voters in one half of the district gets a postage-paid ballot, and the other half doesn’t.

What PDI Is doing: We have created a new flag in the PDI for voters who have never voted by mail if you’re counting on any of these voters in a Vote Center county, make sure to give them extra attention!

No polling place – The registrars are not assigning a voter to a polling location. Campaigns are used to doing precinct walks, sending mail, and putting up door hangers with the voters’ assigned polling place.  Counties will send voters all the places in the county they can vote, but they aren’t saying this is your closest vote center.

What PDI is doing: We have data on vote center locations and we will provide links to all campaigns in those counties. We also will be assigning each precinct to the nearest vote center. For the general election we hope to have data on which vote center was used by each voter, possibly showing the most common vote center used by the voters in a precinct and provide that to campaigns as well.

30 days, 28 days, 11 days, 4 days – Voters will still get their ballots more a month before the election, and then can start mailing those in immediately. This is similar to past years with PAV ballots, but now there are three additional periods of time to pay attention to. Drop-off locations open 28 days out, then vote centers will be available for the last 10 days, plus Election Day, and those numbers will grow at the end, with three days plus Election Day for additional centers.

What PDI is doing: for the past several election cycles we have been tracking absentee voters with tools like this tracker, and we will be continuing that in 2018. We also are tracking absentee votes cast every day to allow campaigns to remove them from voter contact universes.

Election Day Returns this is a complex but possibly very exciting change to how things will work on Election Day. For decades campaigns have gone to the polling location, checked their list of supporters against the list of who had voted, and then went out into the community to Get Out The Vote. This dramatically changes with vote centers. Counties won’t be keeping a list at the local vote center but they will be doing hourly updates countywide to allow campaigns to know who has returned their ballots.

What PDI is doing: for the 2018 cycle we will be working with counties to get these lists ingested into the PDI every hour, allowing campaigns to automatically receive information about who has returned ballots and chase those who haven’t.  So far we know of three counties who will be able to provide this electronically and we are reaching out to the others.

Same Day Registration

For most political observers, the term same day registration means that voters can show up to a precinct, register on the spot, and vote. That kind of system is used in several states, some of which don’t have permanent voter registration files like California.

This system is different. It is actually called conditional registration and acts like the system we have had in CA for provisional voting. This system also isn’t as widely available as many people think. A voter can’t just go to their precinct to get a conditional registration they are only handled at the county registrar or satellite location.  We know the counties with vote centers will be able to use the same-day registration at each of their centers, but we don’t know how many other locations will be available in other counties.  As such, we expect to see this reform have a much smaller impact than it otherwise could.

What PDI is doing: This new law extends the voter registration window beyond the traditional 15-day deadline, allowing campaigns to continue trying to reach voters who aren’t on the voter file. These voters can be put into our contact database and be included in your campaign efforts for GOTV even if they are not yet registered. We are also working with the counties to identify what satellite locations will be available for these same-day registrations and will provide that to campaigns.

New California Motor Voter Process

The DMV has been registering voters for years that is not new.  In fact, more than 2 million of the state’s current voters have used the process, including more than 200,000 last year alone.

What is changing is the aggressiveness of how these registrations will be processed. Under the new California Motor Voter, instead of asking someone who is eligible (over 18 and a citizen) to complete a registration, they will now be automatically registered unless they opt-out.

The change is expected to increase registrations by more than 2 million statewide.  But, as we know, DMV registrants are lower turnout.  And someone who is registered without even lifting a finger could be even lower turnout still. 

What PDI is doing: as we have for years, PDI will be continue flagging DMV registrants and adding these to our counts and within the PDI online system. We are also watching for potential problems with voters being registered without a political party when they were previously a Democrat or Republican. These voters will continue to be put into our DemPlus and RepPlus flags and we will be looking at additional steps we can take to identify these voters.

Pre-Registration of 16-17 year olds

This reform has captured the most attention (getting front page on the CNN website last week) however for campaigns the change is not earth-shattering. The state law already allowed voters to register before their 18th birthday if they are going to be 18 by the time of the next statewide election and county registrars have processes in place to make sure these voters receive ballots and campaign information in a timely fashion, with their registrations becoming active on their birthday.

What PDI is doing: for this reform, the best thing we can do is to continue giving you the most up to date voter file in the industry. In each cycle we will be updating at 150, 90, 60, 35 and 15 days before Election Day. We are also working with the Secretary of State and legislators on a path for us to obtain and analyze some of this data to look for trends among these new registrants which could inform future campaigns.

2018 is looking to be a very exciting and potentially challenging election year.  We at PDI are committed to help our clients through the cycle with the best tools and data available.

As you navigate these new changes to our states elections law, please let us know any challenges you are facing. And as we continue to learn more about changes and how counties are implementing them, we will keep you informed.