Capitol Alert

Wait times, Motor Voter and an audit – a tick-tock of problems at the California DMV

California has become the epicenter of a problem with long wait lines as the state Department of Motor Vehicles works to implement new laws and modernize technology.

Here’s a comprehensive timeline of the DMV’s struggles over the past year:

Dec. 17 — The DMV confirms to The Bee Shiomoto will step down as director, though she announced her decision to staff members a month earlier. Brown selects Shiomoto’s replacement, naming Bill Davidson as acting director. Davidson works as the DMV’s chief deputy director and will lead the agency starting Dec. 31.

Dec. 14 — The DMV reveals several hundred voters may have been wrongfully kept off the rolls before the Nov. 6 election because of errors transmitting the data to Padilla. Padilla expresses his frustration in a letter sent to Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom urging them to “appoint new leadership.” He adds that DMV Director Jean Shiomoto “has lost my confidence and trust.”

Dec. 13 — The DMV shows progress in reducing wait times and hits an “ambitious goal” it set in August to bring down the delays.

Dec. 13 — Attorneys representing The Bee say they’ve gotten a response an attorney representing the Secretary of State’s Office. The office says it needs another week.

Dec. 6 — The Bee files a complaint with Padilla’s office, challenging his decision to withhold documents from the public. The Bee asks for a response within a week.

Nov. 30 — The Bee receives 268 pages of documents, half of which are newsletters Secretary of State Alex Padilla received from news organizations that referenced the registration errors. His office said it did not have to disclose additional material.

Nov. 27 — The Secretary of State’s Office says it is still reviewing material and anticipated responding three days later.

Nov. 13 — After no response to the records request within 10 days, The Bee follows up on the inquiry. The Secretary of State’s Office responds by asking for a 14-day extension.

Nov. 2 — The Bee requests “any written communications, including emails, from or to Secretary of State Alex Padilla and any written communications, including emails, from or to Chief of Staff Bill Mabi, regarding a batch of approximately 1,500 registration errors at California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, some of whom are believed to be non-citizens.” In accordance with the Public Records Act, they must respond within 10 days. For weeks, the department has declined to answer questions about whether non-citizens voted in the June primary.

Oct. 26 — The Little Hoover Commission — a state watchdog —urges Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers to support a nonpartisan state audit into the DMV’s handling of Motor Voter.

Oct. 22 — California officials decide to keep Motor Voter but add an additional layer of review to ensure the DMV transmits accurate information to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Oct. 9 — Padilla tells reporters at a news conference that a freeze to the state’s Motor Voter program is “certainly on the table.” He criticizes the DMV over its ongoing struggles in registering people to vote. It’s unclear how a freeze would be implemented, but Patterson suggests Brown take action.

Oct. 8 — In a letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, California’s DMV and Department of Technology announce as many as 1,500 non-citizens could have been inadvertently registered to vote.

Oct. 4 — The DMV says in a hearing at the Capitol that it expects to issue 25 million Real ID cards over the next couple of years, but it notes just 1.5 million cards have been issued since January.

Sept. 21 — Gov. Jerry Brown directs his administration to conduct an audit into the DMV. Rather than go through State Auditor Elaine Howle, Brown hands the investigation over to the Department of Finance. The audit, which is scheduled to be released in March 2019, is expected to cost the DMV $700,000 to $800,000. Later in the day, Brown vetoes five DMV-related bills. In a veto message, he urges the Legislature to hold off on introducing new bills until the DMV can address ongoing problems surrounding wait times and outdated technology.

Sept. 20 — Nearly 40 percent of DMV offices experience connectivity problems, halting customer transactions at 68 sites. Power is restored by 10:45 a.m., but Republicans are fuming and continue calls for an audit.

Sept. 5 — The Bee reports that the DMV sent the Secretary of State’s Office 23,000 erroneous voter registrations. The DMV says no undocumented immigrants were registered, but it does note that 1,600 California residents did not complete a mandatory voter registration affidavit before having their information sent to the secretary of state. Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox renews calls for the department’s director, Jean Shiomoto, to resign.

Aug. 30 — DMV says that average wait times throughout Northern California have dropped by 50 minutes. The department previously said it expected wait times to drop starting in mid-September before returning to a more reasonable level by the end of the year.

Aug. 28 — An investigation into Motor Voter program registration issues concludes and a temporary fix is put in place to resolve issues with people being improperly registered with the wrong political party. Neither DMV nor the Secretary of State share this information with the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

mid-August — The California Association of Clerks and Election Officials meets with the Secretary of State’s Office and DMV to explain the discovery of inconsistencies with an uptick in no party preference voters at DMV. Joe Holland, president of the association, says the DMV told him it would change its questionnaire on party preference to make it consistent with online voter registration and paper registration.

Aug. 16 — The Bee outlines ongoing issues regarding the DMV’s technological infrastructure, highlighted by a decades-old computer system the department agrees is “a 40-year-old dinosaur.” The DMV discloses it has experienced 34 IT outages since January 2017, ranging anywhere from 15 minutes to nine hours.

Aug. 9 — A Bee report reminds the public about a secret DMV office that serves lawmakers and their staff. The DMV defends the office as the primary point of contact for lawmakers who receive complaints from their constituents about the DMV.

Aug. 9 — In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, explains his decision to not vote on the request to audit the DMV — effectively killing the proposal. He says he got a call from Gov. Jerry Brown himself earlier that morning “expressing his full commitment to addressing these issues.” He added, “I take the governor’s personal call and the governor’s personal commitment to addressing these issues over a seven-month audit that’s going to tell us exactly what we already know.” Allen claims “the governor has a lot more power over fixing this problem than Jim Patterson and his seven-month audit.”

Aug. 7 — Legislature holds three-hour budget hearing ahead of a separate audit hearing scheduled for the following morning. At the budget hearing, the DMV is unable to quantify the number of system outages it has. It also requests $26 million and says an audit would “strain” its resources. Through a budget trailer bill, the DMV would later be eligible for unlimited funds at the discretion of the Department of Finance with legislative approval. An additional $16.6 million was provided to alleviate office wait times.

Aug. 8 — The Joint Legislative Audit Committee holds a vote to decide whether the DMV should be subject to an independent state audit under a request from Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno. After more than two hours, the request falls one vote shy. With help from three Democratic state senators who abstained from voting, the DMV narrowly dodges the audit request. The governor’s office made calls that influenced at least one of the lawmakers’ decisions. Patterson accuses the three senators of succumbing to “a rank political move” and says “they ought to be ashamed.”

Aug. 6 — DMV experiences outages in multiple offices delaying customer transactions. Connectivity is restored around 10 a.m.

Aug. 5 — DMV learns of issues with customers’ voter registration through the Motor Voter program and immediately stops sending data to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Aug. 2 — Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, says in a statement that the union has “put together a list of the different challenges our employees are experiencing on the ground and have provided them to the DMV.” The union does not respond to multiple requests for additional details.

Aug. 1 — The Sacramento Bee obtains a memo about issues with Real ID and concerns about DMV employees’ working conditions. Service Employees International Union Local 1000, state government’s largest union, accuses the DMV of expanding Saturday service to 20 new offices and increasing hours in existing offices without the union’s knowledge. SEIU 1000 says it will meet with the DMV during the second week of August.

July 30 — Data from the DMV reveals wait times have gone up 46 percent statewide over the last year. Customers at the offices are waiting several hours and are visibly frustrated. Lawmakers say they are fed up with lines going around the block and vow to take action.

June 16 — In response to rising wait times in recent months, DMV adds Saturday service from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in 40 field offices. DMV Director Jean Shiomoto later explained to lawmakers that the $70 million set aside for the DMV to begin Saturday service in January largely went to paying workers overtime.

April 23 — California launches the Motor Voter program, which automatically registers and pre-registers eligible California voters when they go into a DMV office to complete a driver’s license, state ID or address change transaction.

April — DMV discontinues Saturday service since few customers are taking advantage of it.

Jan. 22 — California begins offering Real ID cards. Starting Oct. 1, 2020, people will need the new driver’s licenses to board airplanes and enter other federal facilities without a passport. DMV begins opening some offices on Saturdays in anticipation of increase in customers coming in for Real IDs.

Dec. 2017 — DMV starts to adopt a new Customer Flow System (CFS) in an effort to go ticketless and send text messages to customers.

Follow more of our reporting on California DMV

See all 10 stories