Editorials

DMV audit detailed Motor Voter screw-ups. Why did Newsom try to bury it?

The “Friday dump” is a trick that PR experts use to hide bad news. It works like this: You release bad or unfavorable news late on a Friday, when most people supposedly tune out for the weekend. With any luck, few will be aware of your misdeeds or misfortunes come Monday morning.

Perhaps this explains why Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office decided to release a long-awaited audit of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ Motor Voter program last Friday. Of course, the Friday dump doesn’t work so well for big, ongoing sagas with no end in sight. That’s pretty much what we’re talking about when we talk about anything related to the DMV, and it’s been doubly true of the Motor Voter program.

Among the deliciously disastrous details unveiled in the audit:

The Motor Voter program registered six people who were not eligible to vote, and they voted. “All six individuals voted in the primary and two of them also cast ballots in the 2018 general election,” wrote The Sacramento Bee’s Bryan Anderson. “Their records have since been canceled and they are not being charged with a crime.”

The program resulted in the creation of 84,000 duplicate voter records and over 171,000 errors in recording a voter’s political party registration.

Opinion

Californians who are already registered to vote find the whole thing confusing and unsatisfactory.

Of course, state officials have been aware of some of these issues since February but waited until a Friday afternoon in late July to tell the public. All of this led to predictable howls from critics of the Motor Voter program.

“This is as bad as it gets and requires an immediate suspension of the Motor Voter program,” said Assemblymember Jim Patterson, R-Fresno. “The Governor, the Secretary of State and the DMV have had these details at their disposal since February and chose not to share them - even going as far as to keep them secret from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee where we requested an independent audit of Motor Voter in July. This is a political cover up at the highest levels and the people of CA deserve answers.”

State officials’ apparent efforts to obscure the unflattering news lend credibility to the program’s critics. This is disturbing behavior from a new administration. These errors occurred before Newsom took office, so his staff has every reason to expose the facts and fix the problems without playing games.

After all, despite its problems, the Motor Voter program has done more good than harm.

“Each day 50,000 voter registrations are processed by DMV,” said Steve Gordon, Newsom’s newly-named DMV director. “Since the program began, 1.27 million new voter registrations have been processed and more than 3.7 million voter registrations have been updated.”

Gordon says recommendations for improvement contained in the audit – a 113-page document compiled by Ernst & Young – are already being implemented. Gordon also said he welcomed the audit.

That’s good news. Californians need a DMV director who embraces the department’s challenges, does not shy away from hard truths and views transparency as a necessity. We hope that, when dealing with future revelations about problems at the DMV, Gordon can prevail upon his bosses to avoid slick tactics like the Friday dump.

In truth, state officials probably moved too fast in adopting the Motor Voter program, foisting an extra set of responsibilities onto an ill-prepared DMV. Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who rushed ahead despite warnings from state elections officials, deserves most of the blame for the debacle.

With 2020 around the corner, we hope Padilla and the DMV can get their act together on Motor Voter. More democracy is a good thing, but when state officials bungle the job – and then cynically try to hide their errors from public view – it sends a very different message.

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