SACRAMENTO (AP) — California has reached an all-time high of 18.2 million registered voters, while the number of registered Republicans has fallen below 30 percent, signaling a worrisome decline for the state's minority party, officials said Friday.
In its final update before Tuesday's general election, the secretary of state's office said the number of registered voters has increased by 950,000 since the 2008 presidential contest. Officials attribute that surge in part to the state's new online registration system, which helped many young, Democratic-leaning Californians sign up to vote this fall.
That system was seen as a threat to the California Republican Party, which has struggled to retain members, let alone add them. The secretary of state announced that Republicans now make up 29.3 percent of the state's electorate, compared with 31.4 percent in 2008.
This appears to be the lowest ebb for the party since records have been available.
The GOP now has about 1.5 million more voters in the state than those registered as having no party preference, previously called decline-to-state voters. Independent voters account for 21 percent of the electorate.
Democrats make up 43.7 percent of voters, a slight decline from four years ago. The raw number of registered Democrats has been climbing, while the number as well as percentage of Republicans has fallen.
California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro questioned the gains Democrats made this election cycle. Republicans opposed the push to online voter registration because "we didn't feel there was enough study or safeguards reviewed," he said.
"We're going to have to see whether those are valid registrations or actual voters," he added.
State Sen. Leland Yee, who wrote the law creating online registration, said the uptick in registration is a "game changer." The San Francisco Democrat contrasted California with more conservative states that have pushed for strict voter identification laws.
"While other states are looking at suppressing voter participation, California is doing the opposite," Yee said. "We have continued to be careful about voter fraud, but we don't let it hinder us in encouraging voter participation."
More than 1 million people used the registration site, which went live in September. More than 60 percent of users were younger than 35, according to an analysis by Political Data Inc.
Nearly half of registrants signed up as Democrats and just one-fifth as Republicans, the analysis found.
Del Beccaro said migration patterns explain part of the decline of the GOP in the state, noting the number of Californians who have left during the past decade.
"A lot of those are Republican voters, and it's making it doubly difficult for us to retain above the 30 percent level," he said.
Del Beccaro cited research by the Pacific Research Institute that found 4.4 million people left California, compared with 3.5 million who migrated into the state between 1992 and 2008.
California Democratic Party spokesman Tenoch Flores called the migration theory creative but said GOP policies, including stances on immigration reform and gay marriage, are to blame for the party's decline in California.
John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party, called the numbers "an indication of how totally out-of-touch the Republican Party is with voters in California, and how intelligent Californians are compared with some of the rest of the country."
The total number of people registered to vote in California is roughly equivalent to the total population of Florida.
Democrats now hold every statewide office, from the governor to state insurance commissioner, and have sizable majorities in both houses of the Legislature and in California's congressional delegation.
While the overall number of registered voters reached a new high this year, fewer individuals signed up to vote than in 2008, when 1.2 million people registered in the two months ahead of the presidential election.
The percentage of registered voters held steady at about 77 percent. Secretary of State Debra Bowen said this underscores the fact that too many people are still sitting out elections.
The late surge in Democratic and independent voters could aid Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 on the Nov. ballot, which would help close the state budget deficit by temporarily raising the state sales tax and income taxes on those making more than $250,000. Young voters are more likely to support it in part because it would temporarily halt college tuition hikes.
Eventually, the shifting partisan landscape could help Democrats win supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly, where a two-thirds vote threshold is needed to pass tax increases.