A new law allowing Californians to register to vote online appears to be having its intended effect, attracting more than 400,000 users in its first three weeks.
That may not be good news for Republicans. Nearly a third of online registrants were younger than 26 and were 2 1/2 times more likely to register as Democrats than Republicans, according to an early sampling of nearly 51,000 online registrations by Political Data Inc., a nonpartisan company that provides detailed voter information.
About one-third were not affiliated with either major party.
If the trend holds, it could further erode Republicans' share of the California electorate, which has dipped to 30 percent of registered voters.
Young voters made up 28 percent of those registering online in the early review done by Political Data. That was seven times as many as those over age 65.
The numbers make sense, said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. Online registration tends to attract younger, more mobile voters, she said, and they are more likely to register as Democrats or independents.
One of those is 22-year-old Amy Howard of San Francisco, a senior sociology major at the University of California, Davis who registered online as a Democrat this week.
"Online is just easier to do. It's just so accessible, I didn't have to go out of my way and spend time mailing it," she said. "It appeals to younger people because they've been around computers probably since they were born or were really young."
Jane Richardson, a 22-year-old senior design major at UC Davis, is a registered Democrat from Piedmont who changed her address online.
She said many of her politically active friends have been deterred from voting by "just some little problem with registering. Online, it's easy to change that."
Online registration requires applicants to include their date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, which are checked against their driver's license or the state identification card kept by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
An electronic image of the applicant's DMV signature is added to the application if the information matches. Yet registering online is not the end of the process: Under the law, county elections officials still must verify the information submitted before formally registering the applicant to vote.
Republican lawmakers opposed the bill that created online registration on the grounds that it could lead to voter fraud and additional costs, yet they also might have been thinking of their party's future.
Statewide, Republicans make up 30 percent of California's 17.3 million voters to Democrats' 43 percent. More than one in five voters is registered as an independent.
The early registration trend under the new law suggests rough times ahead for the California Republican Party. Information gathered by Political Data from 31 of California's 58 counties showed Democrats accounting for 49 percent of online registrations, compared to 19 percent for Republicans.
"They're on their way to slipping below 30 percent," Tenoch Flores, a spokesman for the California Democratic Party, said of the GOP. "There's a whole new generation of voters that are taking a look at the Republican Party in California, and they're turning away from it."
California Republican Party spokesman Mark Standriff said he is not surprised by the early results. But the GOP is using a broader approach to registering voters as it looks to rebuild for 2014, he said.
While Republicans tell prospective voters they can register online, "we're not using that as a focus of our registration efforts right now," he said. "It's just another tool that we want to be able to use."
Supporters said they hoped online registration would boost participation by appealing to the more than 6 million Californians who are qualified but have not registered to vote.
A Public Policy Institute of California analysis released this week found that many voters are disaffected and often skip elections even if they are registered. Compared to the population in general, the institute found that registered voters are likely to be more educated, more financially secure, older and white.
Those demographics could change with online registrations.
"That's a pretty good assumption that younger, tech-savvy people are going to use it. I could probably do it on my smartphone," said Santa Barbara County Registrar Joseph Holland.
About a third of voter registrations in that county are coming in online.
Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan attributed "a record-setting pace" in voter registrations to what he said is a fast and convenient way to sign up. About 150,000 people registered there last month, compared to 120,000 who registered in September 2008, before the last presidential election.
But the state's most populous county does not track how many of those registrations were online, and it is unclear how many would have registered anyway.