Capitol Alert

Automatic voter registration sought in California

Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Monday December 1, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Monday December 1, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Every eligible Californian would be automatically registered to vote under legislation Secretary of State Alex Padilla is exploring.

“If government knows who’s here, who’s 18, who’s a citizen, why go through hoops?” Padilla said in an interview. “Let’s just register folks automatically.”

The proposal follows Oregon’s new, first-in-the-nation policy sending ballots to every citizen who has made contact with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Padilla was elected to his post last year after a campaign in which he vowed to expand California’s often-miniscule voter participation rates. In addition to the many voters who stay home on Election Day, Padilla’s office estimated that nearly 7 million people eligible to vote have not signed up to do so.

Since federal law already requires Department of Motor Vehicles offices to give customers the option of registering, Padilla said, it would be logical to make the registration automatic. Other state agencies that retain information showing eligibility could potentially perform the same function, he said, and the law would ideally allow people to opt out.

“I think most Californians ought to participate and would love to participate,” Padilla said. “Let’s get them on the rolls automatically and put all the resources and energy we’ve put into voter registration into voter education.”

Lawmakers have already been contemplating a bill. Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said he and Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, plan to work with Padilla on the issue. While Padilla did not have a timeline for when legislation might emerge, he said it would be a priority for his office.

“This is going to be one of the highlights this year,” Padilla said.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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