Governor signs bill that encourages foster youth to vote

A voter puts her ballot into the box at Fire Station 73 in Newhall on Tuesday. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Efforts to engage California’s foster youth in the political process have become law after Governor Jerry Brown signed a new piece of legislation this week.

Alongside 27 other state bills, Senate Bill 332 was approved by the governor on Monday and will go into effect at the start of next year.

Under the bill, foster youth are provided with voter registration resources and paperwork when they are progressing into adulthood.

“The right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy and yet the voices of many vulnerable groups, such as young adults in or aging out of foster care, are often not represented,” Susanna Kniffen, Senior Director of Child Welfare Policy for the advocacy organization Children Now said in a statement.

There are currently 60,000 foster youth in California, and this bill could impact between 10,000 and 15,000 of them, estimates the office of the senator who wrote the bill.

Voter registration information will be added to already-existing forms foster youth must fill out between ages 18 and 21.

Under the new law, the Secretary of State’s voter registration link, phone number and email will be placed on three forms used for foster dependents.

“SB 322 takes a critical step in increasing the voices of these young adults by ensuring they receive the information they need on their right to vote and guidance on how to register,” Kniffen said.

This bill was authored by Senator Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park), who serves as the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee chair.

“Foster youth may not have an adult in their lives to provide them with voter registration information, something easily overlooked during this transitional stage,” Stern said in a statement. “By providing these services, we are adding another tool to the toolbox, encouraging these young people to become civically-engaged participants in society.”

This is the first of Stern’s bills the governor has signed, though it is not the first of his bills that have been sent to Brown’s desk.

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