California has been taking steps to address a crisis in voter participation, and one major step in this response now sits on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. While responsibility for solving this crisis ultimately lies with California citizens, it is imperative that government do its part to strike down unnecessary barriers to civic participation. Our legislature and our Secretary of State Alex Padilla have thoughtfully moved to streamline the voter registration system by passing AB 1461, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. The bill would automatically register eligible voters when they provide sufficient information to the DMV (such as receiving or renewing a driver's license) unless they opt-out.
Automatically registering citizens whenever the state has the information necessary to verify their eligibility and address is the single largest step California can take to improve voter participation. With nearly seven million eligible Californians currently unregistered, automatic registration will significantly boost participation in elections. While civic organizations as well as government and candidates will still need to do considerable work to educate and motivate citizens to vote once registered, they will be freed from the inefficient clerical task of paper-based voter registration drives and thus have more time and resources to focus on turnout.
Moreover, it will significantly reduce the burden on California counties in manually processing paper voter registration forms.
Oregon has moved forward with a similar program, but I am not suggesting that California should take our cues from a state known primarily for making athletic shoes and craft beers. Rather, we should be looking at most modern western democracies, who have been automatically registering their citizens to vote for decades. If France, Australia, Canada and Argentina can figure out how to implement automatic voter registration, surely the state that brought the world Tesla cars and the iPhone can do it.
The New Jersey legislature has passed an automatic voter registration bill, but Governor Chris Christie is not supporting it. Governor Brown has a mixed record on voting rights in California, signing some important bills last year but vetoing others. One little known fact is that some Democratic Party insiders in California don't like the idea of expanding our electorate to include unknown and unpredictable unregistered voters. Let's hope Brown will stand up to them.
California is proud to lead the world in many regards, but just as we need to catch up in our transportation infrastructure with high speed rail we need to regain ground in our basic infrastructure of democracy: conducting robust elections that capture the full spirit and wisdom of the amazing people of California.