California’s New Motor Voter Act has the potential to change the composition of the electorate, making it younger, less educated, more mobile, and poorer—in other words, more representative of the state’s population as a whole.
These are among the key findings of a new PPIC report by research fellow Eric McGhee and Mindy Romero, founder and director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. McGhee presented the report, What to Expect from California’s New Motor Voter Law, in Sacramento last week. Passed to address the state’s lagging voter participation rates, the new law simplifies the registration process.
When it takes effect next year, all Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) customers who attest to being eligible to vote and do not opt out—that is, do not actively decline to register—will be added to the voter rolls. Because of the sheer volume of DMV customers, the law has the potential to increase registration very quickly—by more than 2 million people in the first year, McGhee said.
Its success depends on how many DMV customers agree to be registered, and that hinges on the way the system is designed, he said. The report recommends that customers be required to say whether they are eligible to vote before they are allowed to complete their DMV transactions—rather than having the option of not answering the eligibility question at all.
“For the maximum impact, the solution is pretty straightforward: make the eligibility question required,” McGhee said.
He cautioned that even if implementation is highly successful, the New Motor Voter Act alone will not solve the state’s problem of low voter turnout. To significantly boost turnout—and ensure that voters are more representative of the state’s population—targeted and ongoing efforts to reach out to newly registered voters will be needed.