Proposition E - Election Day Voter Registration

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2010 San Francisco ballot.


Photo by flickr user Christopher S. Penn.

What it does

Currently, voters must register at least 15 days prior to an election. Proposition E is an amendment to the San Francisco City Charter that would allow eligible San Francisco residents to register to vote on Election Day, or at any time leading up to a municipal election. This would apply exclusively to municipal-only elections (held in odd-numbered years, such as 2011). It would keep unchanged the 15-day registration deadline for statewide and federal elections (held in even-numbered years, such as 2010).

Upon filling out a standard California voter registration form and a late registration form, newly registered voters would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. The San Francisco Department of Elections would process and verify the voter's registration information. If that information is accurate, the department would count the provisional ballot. Lateregistering voters automatically would be registered to vote in future statewide elections. These procedures to define election-day voter registration have not been finalized yet, but they are expected to be defined by an ordinance from the Board of Supervisors in consultation with the Department of Elections by the November 2010 election.

Prop. E also amends the city charter's definition of "voter" to mean a person who is registered to vote "in accordance with the provisions of municipal law" and not just state law. This allows registration procedures for municipal elections to be established or changed in the future by ordinance alone, without requiring another charter amendment.

Why it is on the ballot

The Board of Supervisors placed Prop. E on the ballot with a 9-2 vote. The Department of Elections supports it.

Exclusively municipal elections suffer from low voter turnout, averaging 37 percent turnout in the past 10 elections in San Francisco. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow sameday voter registration.When the issue failed on the statewide ballot in 2002 (Prop. 52), the measure passed in San Francisco, winning 59 percent of the vote. If voters approve Prop. E, San Francisco would be the first city in California to allow same-day voter registration.


  • Democratic societies work better when more adult citizens are included in opportunities to participate in the democratic process. Expanding the potential number of people who are able to vote is a public good.
  • Election Day voter registration has been shown to increase voter turnout by at least 3 percent to 6 percent. This would primarily benefit low-turnout populations such as the young, those who have difficulty with mobility and low-income citizens.
  • Election Day voter registration enables voters who start to form opinions late in a campaign to still participate in the election. Currently, voter registration ends before many citizens are fully engaged in or aware of the issues in elections.
  • Prop. E could allow eligible voters who may have been mistakenly purged from the voting rolls "” or who believed they were registered when they actually were not "” to cast a ballot.
  • The experience of states allowing sameday voter registration shows that arbitrary registration deadlines, such as the 15-day waiting period in California, are not necessary for elections to run smoothly. Election efficiency and fraud protection can be ensured with existing procedures, such as the provisional ballot review process.


  • This measure is unnecessary because anyone "” even those who are not already registered "” can already vote on Election Day with a provisional ballot.
  • The measure would create a different set of rules for exclusively municipal elections than for statewide and federal elections. This could cause confusion among voters.
  • At a time of budget deficits, this measure could add costs of between $200,000 to $400,000 per election for poll staffing and provisional ballot review. Same-day voter registration could potentially overwhelm polling places in San Francisco if voters not previously registered turn out in large numbers on Election Day needing to both register and cast a ballot.
  • Allowing for same-day voter registration is not nearly as important as increasing the awareness of voters about both the importance of voting and the implications of the various measures and races on the ballot. Simply allowing more people to show up to vote on Election Day does little to improve people's interest in actually voting.

SPUR's analysis

While voter turnout in San Francisco is significantly lower for municipal elections than for statewide elections, and the need to continue to increase participation is ongoing, the potential cost of providing additional time to register to vote may outweigh the small increase in turnout this measure is likely to produce.

We applaud efforts to increase participation in elections, and as a civic organization SPUR works regularly to widen the conversation and increase engagement.We think it is equally important to seek increased enthusiasm among voters about the opportunity to participate in elections and raise awareness of the implications of the measures on the ballot. That is, in fact, our objective in producing this voter guide. Simply allowing people to vote on Election Day does not guarantee that they have a reason to be more engaged in the voting process. In sum, we see the benefits of this measure but have some concerns about whether it indeed is the best way to achieve the goals of increased citizen participation.

The SPUR Board was unable to reach the 60 percent threshold required to take a position for or against a measure.

SPUR takes "No position" on Proposition E.