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Why shouldn't California make it easier for college students to vote?

That was the question posed to the Assembly this week by legislation that would require counties to establish a polling place on at least one college campus for every legislative, congressional, presidential or statewide election.

Supporters said passage of Assembly Bill 346 by San Diego Democrat Toni Atkins would demonstrate a commitment to increasing turnout by providing easier access to polling places for an age group that tends to vote in low numbers.

Opponents countered that it makes no sense during a budget crisis to tell counties where to create polling places. Public college campuses exist in 40 counties, so AB 346 could cost up to $52,000 per election, a legislative analysis said.

Partisan politics carried the day: AB 346 passed Monday by a vote of 51-25, with only one Republican supporter -- Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher of San Diego.

Why the party-line split?

Because Democrats could benefit and Republicans suffer from more votes cast on college campuses, perhaps.

Field Poll statistics show that 42 percent of California's registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24 are Democrats, while only 23 percent are Republicans. The remaining 35 percent are independent or minor-party members.

California has more than twice as many liberals than conservatives among registered voters ages 18 to 24, said Mark DiCamillo, Field Poll director. Thirty-eight percent of respondents say they are liberal, 16 percent conservative, and 46 percent "middle of the road."

"There's a decided liberal cast to the younger segment," DiCamillo said.

AB 346 now goes to the Senate.

** Amended at 2:35 p.m. to note that Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, voted in favor of the bill.



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