In an attempt to “drive” up voter turnout, the California legislature has turned to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for help.
State residents renewing or initially obtaining their licenses at the DMV will soon automatically be registered to vote during the process, as well. The change is due to AB 1461, a measure signed into law on October 10 by Governor Jerry Brown.
Residents applying for a California ID card or completing a change of address will also be affected. The DMV will electronically relay their information to the California Secretary of State’s (SOS) office, which is where the individual will be automatically registered to vote.
Known as the “Motor Voter” law, the legislation has not yet gone into effect. Language in the bill states that the program will begin in January 2016; however, the Secretary of State’s office must first create a database of statewide voter information—which will be called VoteCal—and devise regulations for the plan.
According to DMV spokesman Jaime Garza, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not begin exchanging information with the SOS office until those rules and data systems are in place. While Garza did not comment on how long that might take, an L.A. Times article estimates the database could be built as soon as June 2016—just in time for the presidential primary elections.
Still, Garza said one rule has already been established: in order to qualify for the process, an individual must be BOTH:
- A U.S. citizen.
- A resident of the state of California.
Other details, such as whether the new practice will include additional paperwork on the part of the drivers, are not yet known.
The “Motor Voter” plan is an attempt to plug the hole of 6.6 million unregistered-yet-eligible voters in the state. While drivers may opt out of the automatic voter registration, legislators are hoping the measure will increase the state’s voter turnout, which hit a record low last year of 42 percent. California currently ranks 38th in the nation for voter registration.
The bill would particularly serve to boost the number of young voters. Just 52 percent of residents ages 18 to 24 were registered to vote during last year’s midterm election, according to Emily Rusch, executive director of the advocacy coalition California Public Interest Research Group.
While proponents are hoping the measure will help get more people out to the polls, some critics have argued that the bill will open up more possibility for voter fraud to occur.
California will be the second state in the nation to adopt the method, with Oregon approving a similar bill earlier this year.