New California law automatically registers drivers to vote

Automatic voter registration has arrived, now that lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 1461 (Gonzalez), the “California New Motor Voter Program,” which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Oct. 10, 2015.

Supporters of AB-1461 hope that millions of unregistered voters will be added now that eligible California residents will be automatically registered to vote when they apply for or renew driver licenses or identification cards.

“In a free society, the right to vote is fundamental,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a San Francisco Chronicle article. “Government should not impede a citizen’s right to vote.”

According to an article in the Huffington Post, the Alabama legislature gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act and passed a law requiring photo identification of all voters, then closed 31 offices that issue driver licenses.

As dozens of states are cutting back on early voting and implementing other restrictions that hinder the electoral process, the new law will expand access to the polls.

“The New Motor Voter Act will make our democracy stronger by removing a key barrier to voting for millions of California citizens,” Padilla said.

California is the second state behind Oregon, which passed legislation earlier this year, to require the mailing of ballots to citizens who registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

One of the biggest barriers to participating in our democracy is voter registration, according the the bill.

“A lot more young people should be registered to vote,” said Ariana Ross, a 19-year-old sociology major. “Young people should be informed.”

Professor of political science, Elizabeth Huffman said voter education is essential in reducing the obstacles of voter turnout.

“Voters need to know about the opportunity to mail-in ballots,” Huffman said.

In a Sacramento Bee article, Democrats concluded that AB-1461 would increase voter participation among the young, poor and non-white.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton praised the new legislation and tweeted that other states ought to join California in automating voter registration.

Critics suggested that simply increasing voter registration will not cause California residents to be more interested in voting or engage in the political process.

“Kids want to get their driver licenses, but that doesn’t mean they’re responsible enough to know what it is they want to vote for,” said Henry Nguyen, a 19-year-old computer science major. “Some just vote for the sake of voting, to participate in the process.”

AB-1461 was opposed by Republicans who warned it may lead to voter fraud because non-citizens who are eligible to get driver licenses, but who are ineligible to vote, may be registered and cast fraudulent ballots.

“No one wants to see voter fraud in the process,”said Huffman. “The truth is we’ve been able to document very few instances of voter fraud,where it makes sense that our eligible voter population” is automatically registered so the probability of voter turnout is increased.

AB-1461 requires the DMV to forward the data it collects to the secretary of state’s office where a resident’s legal eligibility to vote will be verified before registering them. Residents may opt out or cancel voter registration at any time.

The Motor Voter Program requires that the state’s voter database “VoteCal” is fully implemented before automatically registering voters.

The Legislature has appropriated money and a system is in place to protect the transfer of non-citizen information.

Huffman offered some sensible solutions that may increase voter participation:

“Rather than voting on one day, voting over a period of three to four days [and] having enough polling stations,” are ways to enable working Americans to participate in the voting process, Huffman said.