California secretary of state proposes automatic voter registration

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is backing a proposal to automatically register to vote every eligible Californian with a driver's license.
(Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times)

Every eligible Californian with a driver’s license would be automatically registered to vote under a proposal Thursday by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who estimated it would add millions of people to the voter rolls.

Padilla and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) are modeling their legislation on a “motor voter” law signed last week by the governor of Oregon in an attempt to boost voter turnout.

The California proposal is partly in response to the 42% record low turnout in California’s November election, as well as this month’s Los Angeles election, which saw about 10% of eligible voters go to the polls.


“One of the biggest barriers to citizen participation is the voter registration process,” Padilla said. “A new, enhanced California Motor Voter law would strengthen our democracy. It would be a game-changer.”

California was ranked 38th in the nation on voter registration in 2012 by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Election Performance Index.

More than 7 million Californians who are eligible to vote are not registered to vote, including a disproportionate number of young people.

“I think, especially for young people, it would probably close to double the rolls,” Gonzalez said. “That’s a huge increase of registered voters.”

California recently began giving driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, but non-citizens and drivers under the age of 18 would be excluded from the voter registration program, Gonzalez said.

She predicted the proposal would involve a “big cost,” but said state officials can find a way to do it in the near future.

“If we can take away any barrier to increasing voter and civic participation, we should do it,” she said.

Padilla noted that Oregon is expected to be able to expand its voter rolls by 300,000 people, but he said the number should reach the millions in California.