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California's DMV finds 3,000 more unintended voter registrations

California's DMV finds 3,000 more unintended voter registrations
Voter registration forms in different languages at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Santa Ana on May 5, 2016. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Officials at California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said Wednesday that an additional 3,000 people were mistakenly signed up to vote during the rollout of the state’s new “motor voter” program, errors made during the spring and summer and part of a larger batch of problems first reported two weeks ago.

While the total number of registration errors between mid-April and early August remains the same — estimated at roughly 23,000 — the new discovery more than doubles the instances in which customers unsuccessfully tried to opt out of registering to vote, the DMV said.

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“We have completed our review of records and already have new and improved processes in place to ensure this error doesn’t occur again,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a written statement to The Times.

The 3,000 newly discovered registrations will be canceled, Secretary of State Alex Padilla told local elections officials during a conference call Wednesday.

The motor voter program was designed to automatically register to vote any eligible Californian who applied for a driver’s license or identification card unless that person declined to participate. Since problems were first reported, elections officials have urged those who used the DMV’s services to check the status of their voter registration by logging on to voterstatus.sos.ca.gov. Changes in registration are transmitted to the county where a voter lives.

Two weeks ago, DMV officials disclosed that a series of “administrative processing errors” were made when the department’s employees failed to properly clear customer information from computer screens between appointments. In most cases, the errors involved details about the person’s voter preferences — their political party affiliation and whether they wanted to receive a ballot in the mail, for example.

At the time, a smaller number of the errors — about 1,600 — affected people who did not intend to register. Wednesday’s disclosure brings that total number to about 4,600, or one of every five reported mistakes.

DMV officials said they completed their review of the 23,000 customer errors last week. Customers who were affected by the issues are being notified by mail.

These are not the first reported problems with the launch of the motor voter law. In May, some 77,000 voter records were misreported to elections officials — in some cases, more than one registration form was generated by DMV computers for a single voter. Had that error gone unnoticed, in the most extreme cases it could have resulted in two ballots being issued to a single voter.

Democratic lawmakers pushed through the law that created the new voter registration system in 2015, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it that fall. Supporters said the program would raise voter participation rates by making it easier to register. The program’s launch was contingent on completion of a new statewide voter registration system, which was certified by Padilla in March 2016. But it took until April of this year for motor voter program to get up and running at the DMV, and even then the rollout was delayed by two weeks.

The problems with the voter registration system have come at the end of an especially difficult summer for the DMV, which has faced sharp criticism over long lines at field offices across the state. Efforts to initiate a formal audit of the agency were rebuffed by legislative Democrats, and the problems have become a familiar talking point for Republican candidates, led by John Cox, the GOP candidate for governor.

Of the 3,000 additional wrongly enrolled voters, DMV officials said that as many as 2,500 had no prior history of registration and that there’s no clear answer as to what mistake was made that caused registration data for them to be sent to California’s secretary of state.

Because the errors were identified early, none of the people were considered to be fully registered voters and none were able to cast ballots. DMV officials have said they believe all problems were resolved once the registration system was restarted Aug. 23.

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