Automatic for the People: CA Governor Signs “New Motor Voter” Bill

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[Image courtesy of techcrunch]

Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1461, a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez and supported by new Secretary of State Alex Padilla, that would follow Oregon’s lead in using motor vehicle records to add voters automatically to the rolls. The Associated Press has more:

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation to make California the second state in the nation to begin automatically registering eligible voters when they obtain or renew their driver’s licenses.

AB 1461 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, aims to boost California’s voter rolls by registering visitors to the Department of Motor Vehicles and was among dozens of bills that Brown announced Saturday he had signed.

It follows Oregon’s move earlier this year to adopt the nation’s first automatic voter registration law.

The legislation backed by Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla calls for data collected by the DMV to be provided to the secretary of state’s office, which would verify a resident’s legal eligibility to vote before registering them. Drivers would have the option to opt out or cancel their voter registration at any time.

The bill had been a priority of SoS Padilla and he was happy to see it become law:

“Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote,” he said in a statement. “We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process. The right to vote should be no different.”

Lawmakers approved the so-called motor voter law this summer and have held events around the state encouraging Brown to sign it. They say it could add millions of newly registered voters to California’s voter rolls, improving a lackluster registration system that has led to some of the lowest participation rates in the country.

Not surprisingly, California Republicans are less enthusiastic – worrying that the new law will lower the barriers to fraud – while others question whether (just like the original motor voter) the bill will add more registrants to the rolls without improving turnout:

Some Republican lawmakers say voters shouldn’t be forced to sign up. They warn that automatic registration could lead to voter fraud if people who are not eligible are accidentally registered. [One key refrain already appearing online is the idea that the new law will result in a “flood” of ineligible noncitizens on the rolls – ed.]

Critics have also argued that merely increasing voter registration will not make Californians more engaged in the political process or interested in voting.

Partisan concerns aside, there will still be a lot of work to do before AB 1461 is fully implemented in California. Oregon, the new motor voter pioneer, is still working through its process of implementation – with an electorate that is much smaller and less diverse than California’s, and a statewide voter database that has existed since the early post-HAVA days. California, which is still in the final stages of going live with its own statewide VoteCal system, will have a lot to do to make sure the various changes its facing all work well.

Still, it’s a huge leap forward and a story worth watching as we enter 2016. For now, the one thing we do know is that the ingredients for new motor voter are Democratic majorities and a Governor named Brown … given that we have now exhausted the list of states where that’s the case it will be interesting to see what happens next in Oregon, California and elsewhere.

Stay tuned.

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