Editorials

Pass ‘motor voter,’ but don’t stop there

Secretary of State Alex Padilla explains ‘motor voter’ bill

Formerly known as Assembly Bill 1461, the legislation automatically registers adult citizens to vote at the DMV when they get or renew a driver's license -- unless they opt out.
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Formerly known as Assembly Bill 1461, the legislation automatically registers adult citizens to vote at the DMV when they get or renew a driver's license -- unless they opt out.

Voter turnout in California is a concern for all sorts of reasons, most beyond the control of state legislation. Still, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get more of this state’s massive electorate invested, engaged and to the polls.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla understands that, which is why one of his first orders of business upon taking office this year was pushing for Assembly Bill 1461, carried by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. The measure, passed by the Legislature last month, would automatically register adult citizens to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles when they get or renew a driver’s license.

Based on Oregon’s voter registration system, AB 1461 would exploit digital technology to improve upon the current paper-based “motor voter” system, which isn’t working well. An estimated 6 million voters are currently out there, unregistered but eligible.

Republicans mostly opposed the bill, fearing voter fraud and surveys showing that more unregistered voters in the state lean Democratic. But the measure has checks to ensure only qualified voters are registered, and partisan jitters shouldn’t trump the more important goal of maximizing civic engagement.

With California’s voter registration rate ranking 38th in the nation, Gov. Jerry Brown should sign AB 1461 into law.

Registration is only half the battle, however. Only 42.2 percent of the state’s registered voters turned out in the last statewide general election, a record low. Senate Bill 450, which lawmakers will mull in 2016, would make voting easier by letting counties replace the scattered and labor-intensive precinct system with new “voting centers.”

That tweak, which dramatically improved turnout in Colorado, would allow voters to mail in their ballots, drop them off at secure 24-hour boxes or submit them at one of the new centers, which would be open all day for 10 days prior to an election. On election day, anyone could vote at the centers, not just those registered to particular precincts.

Registration is only half the battle. Only about 42 percent of the state’s registered voters turned out in the last statewide general election, a record low.

It’s an interesting idea – again, Padilla’s – and lawmakers should seriously consider it in the next session. But the fact is, government can do only so much to lead a horse to water. Most of the solution on turnout lies with the rest of us.

To that end, the political parties, weakened though they may be, really must improve their outreach. And elected officials need to get out and encourage participation. Padilla, for instance, sets aside time to visit high schools – it’s his job, of course, and smart politics, but also a great civics lesson. Schools, too, could do more. And, frankly, so could you, dear voter.

Get concerned. Be a role model for your kids by voting, and urge them to vote. Democracy is everyone’s business.

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