California Passes Automatic Voter Registration Law After Dismal 2014 Turnout

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Governor Brown approved a law on Oct. 10 which will automatically register millions of California voters through Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) records, starting Jan. 2016.

Assembly Bill No. 1461 stipulates that upon visiting the DMV to receive or renew a driver’s license or ID card, all California citizens will have their records transferred to the Secretary of State for registration approval, unless they choose to opt out of the process. Governor Brown’s decision addresses the issue of dwindling voter registration in California, just months after 2014’s general elections yielded the lowest state turnout in 21 years, as well as the lowest turnout from 18-24 year old voters.

Assuming that most registrants cooperate with the New Motor Voter Program, the system could result in a surge of millions of California voters in time for the 2016 primaries and presidential election.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, “Annually, the DMV issues over 8.25 million driver licenses and ID cards to Californians.” Over time, this law could help register the 6.6 million Californians who are currently eligible to vote but unregistered.

The law could give Californians an edge in upcoming elections, especially as voter turnout and registration numbers have been trending low in recent years.

During the 2012 presidential election, California ranked 41 out of 51 states (including Washington D.C.) in voter turnout, and state voter registration has been on the decline since 2007. As of Feb. 2015, 72.73% of eligible Californians are registered to vote, the lowest percentage in eight years. Orange County’s statistics are even lower, at 71.98%.

On UC Irvine’s campus, ASUCI’s “60 by 16” campaign could benefit from the New Motor Voter Program in terms of increased student registration. The “60 for 16” campaign, which aims to get 60% of UC Irvine’s student body registered to vote by the 2016 presidential election, aims to increase voter turnout among UCI students, and could work in tandem with the new law.

As of Oct. 2012, just prior to the last presidential election, ASUCI’s partnership with CALPIRG’s New Voters Program aimed to increase voter registration on UCI’s campus to 7,000 students, as only an estimated 3,000 students were then registered to vote, out of 26,401 total students. This rounds out to just over 11% student voter registration on UCI’s campus in time for 2012’s presidential election, reflecting a downward trend in youth voter registration that has only been on the decline since.

Influencing Governor Brown’s decision to pass Bill No. 1461 is the fact that California’s general elections in 2014 marked the state’s lowest voter turnout since 1993, with just 44.2% of registered voters casting a ballot. Of those voters, the 18-24 year old population turned out in the smallest numbers by far, at just 8.2%.

Assuming that DMV visitors do not opt out of automatic registration, California’s New Motor Voter Law could add millions of young California voters to the books, increasing state participation and youth participation in next year’s election.

The new law will be on the books starting Jan. 1, 2016, however, the DMV will not officially enact the program until California updates its voter database, Vote-Cal, tentatively scheduled for Jun. 2016, allotting California five months of automatic registration before the Nov. 2016 presidential election.

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