California Takes Major Step Toward Increasing Voter Turnout


When you’re at the DMV to get a new driver’s license, you’ll be asked about your height, eye color, organ donor status, and whether you would like to register to vote. But in California, that last question will soon be eliminated.

Along with 13 other bills, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on Saturday that would automatically register people to vote when they receive or renew their driver’s license, theLos Angeles Times reports.

“The New Motor Voter Act will make our democracy stronger by removing a key barrier to voting for millions of California citizens,” saidSecretary of State Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill, in a statement following Brown’s decision. “Citizens should not be required to opt in to their fundamental right to vote. 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.”

California’s bill expands on the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires workers at the DMV to offer registration forms, but whether the forms are always offered has been difficult to track. California is the second state after Oregon, where officials signed a similar bill into law earlier this year, to have a proactive registration process. Residents will be able to opt out if they do not want to register to vote.

This bills’ passing comes at time when registration laws have tightened around the country. Nebraska and North Carolina repealed same-day registration in 2013. Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, and Tenessee require proof of citizenship when registering to vote. 

Critics of the bill fear that the automatic process will register people who can receive a driver’s license but are not eligible to vote, while supporters say the bill has protections in place to prevent that from happening.

Fewer than 42 percent of California’s registered voters cast a ballot in the 2014 election—the lowest since World War II, according to a report compiled by the Center for Regional Change at the University of California, Davis. The report links low voter turnout to low registration levels. Automatic registration is expected to especially empower young and minority voters. Only 52 percent of people ages 18 to 24, 62 percent of Latinos, and 50 percent of Asian Americans are registered to vote.

“It’s removing the first barrier to voting, which is registration,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, the bill’s author. “It’s going to lead to millions more Californians being registered to vote.”

The law goes into effect next year, but California will have to create a database first, according to the Times. VoteCal is expected to be ready by June of next year—just in time for the presidential primary election. 

This story was originally published on Take Part.

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