California Senate OKs automatic voter registration plan

People line up outside the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Lincoln Park.

People line up outside the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Lincoln Park.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In response to the record-low turnout in the last election, the state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would automatically register to vote any eligible Californian who gets a driver’s license unless they opt out.

The measure was prompted by the 42% turnout in the November election, as well as the turnout for March election in Los Angeles, in which only about 10% of eligible voters went to the polls.

Nearly 7 million Californians, mostly young people, are eligible but not registered to vote. In an effort to boost the number, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) introduced a bill modeled on a new law in Oregon to get more people to the polls.

“The California New Motor Voter Act is a simple, common-sense opportunity to streamline and modernize our voting system to bring millions of eligible voters into the electoral process and rebuild the relationship between the public and their representatives,” said Gonzalez, whose bill is also backed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

The measure was previously approved by the Assembly but returns there for approval of minor amendments.


Under the measure, approved by a 24-15 vote, eligible citizens would be registered to vote when they get their driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles unless they opt out.

“Voter registration still stands as a significant impediment to voter participation in our state,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).

However, all Republicans who voted opposed the bill, with some citing concern that it could lead to voter fraud. Sen. Jeff Stone of Murrieta said the bill would “further undermine the integrity of our election system.”

The measure would not take effect until a new computerized voter registration database is established some time next year.