HANNAH DREIER, Associated Press
Updated 2:37 p.m., Friday, November 2, 2012

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has reached an all-time high of 18.2 million registered voters, while the number of registered Republicans has fallen below 30 percent, signaling a worrisome decline for the state’s minority party, officials said Friday.

In its final update before Tuesday’s general election, the secretary of state’s office said the number of registered voters has increased by 950,000 since the 2008 presidential contest. Officials attribute that surge in part to the state’s new online registration system, which helped many young, Democratic-leaning Californians sign up to vote this fall.

That system was seen as a threat to the California Republican Party, which has struggled to retain members, let alone add them. The secretary of state announced that Republicans now make up 29.3 percent of the state’s electorate, compared with 31.4 percent in 2008.

This appears to be the lowest ebb for the party since records have been available.

The GOP now has about 1.5 million more voters in the state than those registered as having no party preference, previously called decline-to-state voters. Independent voters account for 21 percent of the electorate.

Democrats make up 43.7 percent of voters, a slight decline from four years ago. The raw number of registered Democrats has been climbing, while the number as well as percentage of Republicans has fallen.

California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro questioned the gains Democrats made this election cycle. Republicans opposed the push to online voter registration because “we didn’t feel there was enough study or safeguards reviewed,” he said.

“We’re going to have to see whether those are valid registrations or actual voters,” he added.

State Sen. Leland Yee, who wrote the law creating online registration, said the uptick in registration is a “game changer.” The San Francisco Democrat contrasted California with more conservative states that have pushed for strict voter identification laws.

“While other states are looking at suppressing voter participation, California is doing the opposite,” Yee said. “We have continued to be careful about voter fraud, but we don’t let it hinder us in encouraging voter participation.”

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