Last month, California finalized legislation to update its motor voter system—which allows voter registration at motor vehicle agency branches—to simultaneously register all eligible citizens who apply for driver’s licenses or state IDs, unless they opt out. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, and the system will probably become operational in 2017.
According to Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office, an estimated 6.6 million eligible but unregistered citizens live in the state, and the new system will help to ensure that these voters are on the rolls and able to cast ballots. Existing registrants will still be able to cancel a registration or update a party affiliation at motor vehicle offices.
Motor voter is one of the most common ways that citizens interact with the election system. When done well, registration at motor vehicle agencies can reduce costs to states by minimizing labor-intensive paper registrations and better serve a highly mobile electorate. Across the country—as we recently reported in New Mexico—state driver’s licensing administrators and election officials are beginning to upgrade these systems to ensure that all eligible citizens can register to vote or update their information efficiently and without the burden and unreliability of paper forms.
Keara Castaldo is an election initiatives associate, and Sean Greene is project director of election initiatives at The Pew Charitable Trusts.