Clearing Away Barriers to Voter Registration

Co-authored by Sebastian Ridley-Thomas

In California, there are about 7 million people who are eligible to vote but never registered to do so, including 1.2 million in Los Angeles County. It's a shocking statistic, considering the sacrifices made to win passage of the historic Voting Rights Act, which marked its 50th anniversary this year.

It doesn't help that our County's manual voter registration system is more than 20 years out of date and paper-based, making it prone to problems caused by illegible handwriting, inaccurate information, data duplication and operator error.

More than ever, a new system is needed. Thankfully, Governor Jerry Brown has a bill sitting on his desk, awaiting his signature, which could clear away such barriers to the democratic process and dramatically increase the state's voter rolls.

AB 1461 (Gonzalez, Alejo and McCarty), also known as the California New Motor Voter Act sponsored by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, calls for automatically registering eligible voters when they obtain or renew their driver license at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Modeled on a recently enacted law in Oregon, AB 1461 would require that data already being collected by the DMV also be transmitted electronically to the Secretary of State, who serves as California's chief elections officer.

The newly registered voters would then either choose a political party affiliation or opt out of voting altogether, by submitting a request to their county elections official. To address privacy concerns, information on non-citizens would not be forwarded to the Secretary of State.

By doing away with the labor-intensive manual voter registration process, AB 1461 would allow the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder-County Clerk to put increased focus on voter outreach and education, which would also boost voter turnout.

The importance of getting eligible voters out to the polls on Election Day cannot be understated. It is the cornerstone of a government that is of the people, for the people, and by the people. And yet, in 2014, California ranked a dismal 43rd in the nation in voter participation, and Los Angeles County recorded the lowest turnout of any county in the state at roughly 25 percent.

The Governor has always been an ardent supporter of voting rights and we urge him to take this opportunity to sign AB 1461. By modernizing and streamlining the democratic process, the proposed California New Motor Voter Act would preserve the legacy of the hard-fought Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Mark Ridley-Thomas
is a Los Angeles County Supervisor and the founder of the African American Voter Registration, Education and Participation (AAVREP) project.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas is a member of the California State Assembly and is the Chair of the California Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee.