Capitol Alert

Audit Motor Voter program independently, California watchdog says

A state watchdog agency is urging California lawmakers to approve an independent audit of the state’s Motor Voter program, after the Legislature rejected one earlier this year.

The Little Hoover Commission on Oct. 26 sent a list of recommendations to Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers that included a nonpartisan state audit into the Department of Motor Vehicle’s handling of Motor Voter, which launched in April to automatically register voters.

The commission, an independent oversight agency tasked with making suggestions to improve government programs, said the DMV and California Department of Technology “have had serious problems with ensuring that the New Motor Voter Program works as intended and promised.” Without proper implementation of the law, it warned, “voter confidence in a fair and legitimate electoral process will be undermined, if not shattered.”

Motor Voter has received heavy criticism in recent months for a number of technical mishaps affecting voters’ registration information. In August, the DMV sent 23,000 erroneous voter registrations to the Secretary of State’s Office. Earlier this month, the DMV reported that about 1,500 customers may have been improperly registered to vote. Some of the 1,500 are believed to be non-citizens, and it remains unclear whether any of them voted during this year’s June primary.

Over the summer, Republican lawmakers began calling for an independent audit into the DMV led by State Auditor Elaine Howle. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, fell one vote shy of having his request approved in August and plans to make another request when lawmakers return to Sacramento for the next legislative session.

Since then, the state has added an extra layer of review to the Motor Voter program to prevent further registration errors.

The commission’s report also says that 1.4 million eligible California voters had opted out of Motor Voter or provided unclear or missing information as of Aug. 24. The agency urged Secretary of State Alex Padilla to improve outreach efforts to understand why people aren’t registering.

“The Secretary of State does not engage in any activities to find out why the program has not been successful for these eligible voters,” the report says. “Thus, there is no light shed on who these groups of individuals are or why they fail to register to vote, despite the convenience of the program. Without gathering this type of data, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to improve the New Motor Voter Program.”

The Department of Finance is now conducting a performance audit into the DMV, which will also address ongoing concerns surrounding the implementation of Motor Voter.

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