Capitol Alert

Are you confused by California DMV voter registration? You’re not alone, report finds

‘The technology is Byzantine.’ Gov. Newsom on how DMV needs to change

Gov. Gavin Newsom talks about how California's Department of Motor Vehicles needs to change during a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Behind him at left is the new director of the DMV, Steve Gordon.
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Gov. Gavin Newsom talks about how California's Department of Motor Vehicles needs to change during a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Behind him at left is the new director of the DMV, Steve Gordon.

California investigators released a 113-page report Friday afternoon highlighting a range of issues with the state’s efforts to automatically register people to vote when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Voter registration prompts are confusing, and customers do not understand why they are asked to register to vote when they are there to do business involving their vehicles, findings from the Ernst & Young audit showed.

Elements of the application “are not intuitive to the public, creating confusion and uncertainty for the customer when completing the application,” the report says. “The language used in the options does not provide a clear choice to maintain voter registration, as is, without being removed from their current voter roll.”

A group of 35 workers involved in the Motor Voter program, meanwhile, told auditors “there was no clear decision maker on the project as a whole” and a lack of “active engagement” from DMV executives and senior leadership.

The audit’s findings largely mirror those from a Department of Finance report in March that cited a “reactive culture.”

California Department of Motor Vehicles Director Steve Gordon said he welcomed the audit and that the department has already worked to implement many of its recommendations.

The department, among other actions, worked to improve coordination with other state agencies and made some changes in the collection of voter registration information. It conducted Motor Voter training for nearly 4,000 workers in July.

“As we move forward to continue our improvements to how we do business, we must not lose sight of the success of the Motor Voter program,” he said in a statement. “Each day 50,000 voter registrations are processed by DMV. Since the program began, 1.27 million new voter registrations have been processed and more than 3.7 million voter registrations have been updated... Business process improvements and quality assurance enhancements continue, but the system is working.”

The Motor Voter program launched on April 23, 2018, to boost participation ahead of the 2018 midterms.

The latest review also shows substantial data mismatches in voter registration information between the DMV and the Secretary of State’s Office, though it found the differences “did not jeopardize voter registration.”

Ernst & Young reviewed 3.2 million records from April 23, 2018 to September 26, 2018. Of the 131 million possible data points, 1.8 million did not exactly match. Nearly three-fourths of the non-matching data points resulted in the two departments having different formatting for storing dates. Other mismatches include zip codes and current mailing addresses.

“These are both the result of differences in field management between the two systems but do not indicate any issues with actual voter registrations,” the audit said.

The report also found the DMV sent 83,684 records duplicate voter records to the Secretary of State’s Office that “resulted in no impact to voter eligibility.” Additionally, the DMV voter registration data holds 92,201 records which are not included in the SOS voter registration data, while SOS has 452 records that not included in the DMV’s voter registration data.

Since the Motor Voter program launched on April 23, 2018, the DMV has experienced 105,000 registration errors, including some in which people were inadvertently registered with the wrong party.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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