An FAQ About CA’s New Automatic Voter Registration Program (And a Reminder About Similar Pending PA Legislation)

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law Assembly Bill 1461, also known as the California New Motor Voter Program.

The bill, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and sponsored by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, will streamline California’s voter registration process and enable the Secretary of State to do additional outreach to register eligible voters.

Under the new law, beginning no later than 2017, all Department of Motor Vehicles users who indicate they are eligible to vote will be automatically registered, unless they opt out of registering.

Prior to that, the law also authorizes the secretary of state to use DMV contact information to reach out to millions of potential eligible California voters to encourage them to register to cast a ballot.

The enactment of AB 1461 builds off of the governor’s budget, enacted earlier in 2015, which appropriated $2.35 million to fund technological upgrades at the DMV and the secretary of state’s office to better facilitate voter registration at the DMV.

California Common Cause issued the following statement on the decision:

“This is a big victory for democracy. Today California joins Oregon in becoming one the first states in the nation to implement an automated, new and improved Motor Voter Program. Reducing the barriers to voter registration is one of the clearest policy changes that can be made to increase voter turnout. Along with funding in this year’s budget for voter registration technology upgrades at DMV, California is demonstrating its commitment to promoting 100 percent voter participation.”

According to the latest figures from the secretary of state, there are 6.6 million eligible Californians who are not registered to vote. In November 2014, 30.9 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote – the lowest rate for a state general election in more than 100 years.

By way of background, a Pennsylvania senator this year introduced legislation that would automatically register eligible voters.

Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Democrat serving parts of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, on Aug. 7 introduced SB 806, legislation that he said aims to reform voter registration in Pennsylvania.

The legislation, Hughes said, is designed to increase voter access and participation by upgrading and streamlining the voter registration process in the Commonwealth.

“My legislation, based on a similar law in Oregon, would essentially change our voter registration system from an “opt-in” system to an “opt-out” system,” he wrote in the co-sponsorship memo. “Under current law, citizens can elect to register to vote (“opt-in”) either electronically or by filling out a voter registration form when they apply for a public benefit, service or license through the Department of Transportation or other state agencies currently authorized to assist with registering voters.”

Under Hughes’ proposal, those agencies would automatically collect an individual’s relevant voting-related information with the application and send it electronically to the Department of State and to the counties for purposes of registering the voter. Prior to completing the registration, a voter would receive a notice allowing them to select a political party affiliation or to decline registration (“opt out”).

If the individual does not “opt out” within 21 days, they will be added to the voter rolls.

If you want automatic voter registration in Pennsylvania, call your state senator today to ask him or her to support SB 806.

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