With national anticipation growing ahead of five upcoming Democratic primaries on Tuesday and with so much hinging on the outcome in California, the Bernie Sanders campaign received encouraging news late Friday as the California secretary of state's office reported soaring registrations of new voters, especially for Democrats.
"If there’s a large voter turnout, we will win. If there is a very large voter turnout, we will win with a big margin." —Sen. Bernie Sanders
The report showed that with nearly 18 million voters now registered in the state, California now has the "highest ever total statewide voter registration heading into a primary election" with more than 72 percent of eligible residents ready to vote on Tuesday.
"In the 45 days leading up to the voter registration deadline, there was a huge surge in voter registration—total statewide voter registration increased by nearly 650,000," said Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a statement. "Part of this surge was fueled through social media, as Facebook sent a reminder to all California users to register to vote. It is clear that Californians are engaged and excited about this election. Now the next step is to turn out and vote!"
During the last month and a half, Democratic Party, Republican Party, and No Party Preference voter registration all increased, but it was the registrations for the Democratic Party, with more than 490,000 new people adding themselves to the roles, that accounted for more than 75 percent of the total growth.
Though No Party Preference (NPP) voters in California are essentially independents and are allowed to vote in California's partially open primaries on the Democratic side, some controversy was brewing on Saturday after a volunteer poll worker in the state posted a video detailing how she was told during a recent training session that NPP voters should only be given "provisional ballots" if they show up to vote Democrat on Tuesday. With Sanders consistently drawing such voters, it was particularly alarming for his supporters to learn that those given provisional ballots—which are routinely not counted on election day—could have their votes largely discounted.
Watch the video:
Throughout his campaign against rival Hillary Clinton, Sanders has repeatedly said that one of the keys to his success has been the energy he has created among new voters and independents. California is now on the verge of being the ultimate test of that theory.
"If there’s a large voter turnout, we will win. If there is a very large voter turnout, we will win with a big margin," Sanders told supporers at a rally in the northern town of Cloverdale on Friday. "But let’s be honest. If there’s a low voter turnout, we will lose. That’s just the facts. I’m asking all of you to do everything you can."
Reporting for the Guardian, political correspondent Sam Levin spoke with Sanders supporters at Friday's Cloverdale rally and put the tensions surrounding voter turnout into context:
In order to turn out voters on a large scale, the Sanders campaign would need to adopt a labor-intensive, data-driven outreach process similar to the tactics of local campaigners who target specific voters, Swago added.
Although Sanders has outspent Clinton on advertising in California and has more than 55,000 volunteers in the state, it will still be an uphill battle to get voters who don’t typically participate in elections to turn in their ballots.
In Cloverdale, Walker Best, 20, and Lauren Brandt, 17, said they were confident turnout for Sanders could surpass Clinton’s voters.
“I know a lot of Clinton supporters that aren’t going to vote,” said Best, a customer service worker. “It doesn’t matter as much to them.”
“Or they don’t know what they’re voting for,” interjected Brandt, who wore multiple Bernie pins but is too young to vote.
They both said they make $10 an hour in minimum wage jobs and believe they would have the best chance of making ends meet under a Sanders presidency.
“I’m voting because I genuinely believe he can do it,” added Best, who wore a “Bernie Fucking Sanders” T-shirt. “I know he’s gonna win, and I just want to help.”
Anja Woltman, 69, said she expected the Tuesday contest would bring out people who don’t regularly vote – such as her sons, who are in their 30s and are generally apathetic about elections.
“They have never been so excited about politics. They trust him.”
Lorena Cruz, a 22-year-old student, said she was confident Sanders’ fans would take the time to vote for him. But she admitted that some Democrats, primarily driven by fears of Trump, will decide to back the candidate who’s winning the race.
“In my family,” she said, “they’re resorting to Hillary, because they think she’s the frontrunner.”
Mandy Armstrong, a 30-year-old bartender, said voters’ hatred of both Trump and Clinton would bring them to the polls for Sanders.
“California loves a comeback story,” she added.
With recent polls showing that Sanders has reduced Clinton's once enormous lead to a virtual tie in the state, the campaign and its supporters have plenty of reasons to believe an upset is within reach.
"Our task this weekend is simple," the campaign tweeted on Saturday: "Call every single Bernie supporter we can and make sure they have a plan to vote."