Oct. 14 2015 02:13 PM

DMVs will soon auto register California voters

Micah-Sittig_flickr_dmv
Automatic voter registration is coming to DMVs.
Photo by Micah Sittig / Flickr

Sunday was the deadline for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign or veto bills passed by the state Legislature. He’s likely recovering from writer’s cramp this week, but it’s Republicans who are wringing their hands over pas- sage of AB 1461. That’s the New Motor Voter Act, which could increase voter rolls in San Diego County by 700,000, and by nearly 7 million statewide.

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez authored the New Motor Voter Act. It aims to easily and automatically register every voting-eligible resident who applies for or renews a driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Act goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016. It is not retroactive.

The DMV will ask you to record your party affiliation.

If you don’t want to register to vote you can opt out. (In this case, if you complain about politics anytime afterward, you deserve to have a set of car keys shoved down your throat.)

Before the New Motor Voter program begins registering citizens at the DMV, however, VoteCal—the statewide voter registration database—has to be officially certified and deployed. VoteCal is scheduled to be certified and go live by June 2016, according to Sam Mahood, press secretary for California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Note: State voters must still opt-in to vote by May 23, 2016, to vote in the primary election on June 7, 2016. The new system should be in place for the general election on Nov. 8, 2016.

Since the national Motor Voter Act of 1993, voter registration materials have been available at DMVs. That made it relatively simple to opt-in. However, Gonzalez says fewer than one in five residents who interact with the DMV opt in.

“As we watch states across the country do their best to disenfranchise voters, I’m proud to have legislation signed into law that actually expands voting opportunities for all Californians,” Gonzalez said in a released statement. “Removing an unnecessary barrier to voter registration will allow us to get down to the business of increasing actual participation.”

Some concern has been raised that Motor Voter will lead to voter fraud in the shape of illegal immigrants casting ballots. That’s a nonstarter. The DMV already screens out noncitizens who have AB 60 driver’s licenses. And, the DMV is prohibited from sending the Secretary of State records belonging to anyone who can’t satisfy voter eligibility requirements, including AB 60 applicants.

So why are members of the California GOP opining that political Armageddon is upon them?

In part because the Micah Sittig / flickr majority of the state’s are, you guessed it, Democrats. A study by UC Davis found that eligible-but-unregistered voters in the state are largely minorities and young adults. That includes 30 to 45 percent of African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos.

Whether or not it’s a political power play by Dems, Motor Voter is a good idea that makes sense. California follows Oregon in enacting automatic voter registration, a policy that already exists in countries like Canada and Sweden.

Honestly, the opt-in process was not a particularly tall barrier. It was nothing like the racist Deep South literacy tests abolished by The Voting Rights Act of 1965. But opt-in was a barrier, nonetheless.

Political elites who refer to eligible-but-unregistered residents as potentially uninformed voters who shouldn’t cast ballots because they don’t understand the issues are dinosaurs offering reactionary commentary.

Simply put, participatory government works best when the most people possible have a free path to participate.

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