Last month, Oregon Governor Kate Brown received considerable media attention when she put her signature on a new law that automatically registers every licensed driver in the Beaver State to vote. Here in California, newly-minted Secretary of State Alex Padilla is pushing for the state legislature to follow Oregon’s lead.
Padilla is supporting a bill, AB 1461, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), that would, as in Oregon, require that every person with a driver’s license in California be automatically registered to vote.
AB 1461 says that a licensed driver would have to affirmatively opt out of being registered in order not to be enrolled automatically.
The bill passed its first legislative hurdle yesterday when Assembly Transportation Committee Democrats, on a party-line vote, approved the bill.
In a release, Padilla said, “One of the biggest barriers to citizen participation is the voter registration process. A new, enhanced California Motor Voter law would strengthen our democracy. It would be a game changer. While Oregon could expand its voter rolls by as much as 300,000 voters through their new enhanced Motor Voter process, California could expand it rolls by millions.”
Proponents of the legislation, including Padilla and Gonzalez, argue that requiring citizens to register to vote places an additional step in front of the millions of Californian’s eligible to register, and that resources spent encouraging registration are better spent on voter education.
The measure’s opponents argue that there is no data to show that automatic voter registration will mean that more people vote, but that the costs associated with communicating with these “forced” registrants will be a added financial burden–both on the state as well as for the various campaigns that have to communicate to these new registered voters. They also argue that voter registration should be an intentional, voluntary act.
There is no disagreement that last November’s 42.2% voter turnout was deplorable and that steps need to be taken to increase the number of voters participating in the electoral process.
AB 1461 will next be heard in the Assembly Elections Committee. A hearing date has not yet been set.