Automatic voter registration moving through California legislature

The California Senate passed a bill yesterday that would automatically register every licensed driver in the state to vote unless they opt out, modeling legislation enacted in Oregon and introduced in a host of other states. An earlier version of the bill has already been passed in the state House, which needs to approve minor amendments that were made in the Senate before it proceeds to Governor Jerry Brown’s office for his signature.

Vote by Shutterstock

Vote by Shutterstock

According to the Los Angeles Times, the bill is being pushed as a response to dismal voter turnout in recent elections. Voter turnout last November fell to 42% percent of eligible voters. In a special election in March, turnout was just 10%. Over 7 million eligible Californians are not registered to vote.

California and its localities have thrown around a number of ideas to boost voter turnout. A proposal in Los Angeles to pay citizens who show up to vote was widely panned. Efforts to restore voting rights for ex-felons have been met by voting rights activists with a much more favorable response.

California Republicans — who somehow still exist — opposed the bill with the knee-jerk response that it will increase the risk of voter fraud, with no explanation as to how expanding voter registration through the issuance of a photo ID will lead to suspect votes being cast.

While automatic voter registration via the DMV is the current path of least resistance for voting rights expansions, as it uses the existing bureaucratic infrastructure and carries an opt-out provision, there are better and more comprehensive ways to expand ballot access. California could allow voters to register online — many states already do. They could use other bureaucratic databases to automatically register voters who are not licensed to drive.  They could make Election Day a holiday (or establish a voting week).

There aren’t any good arguments against doing any of these things. So while California’s push to automatically register its drivers to vote is a good first step, it isn’t enough.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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