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What to Expect from California’s New Motor Voter Law

By Eric McGhee, Mindy Romero

In 2015, California passed major legislation to increase the state’s voter rolls by simplifying the voter registration process. Under the New Motor Voter Act, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will electronically transmit information about DMV customers who are eligible to vote to the California Secretary of State, which will add eligible customers to the voter rolls unless they opt out.

We find that this law has the potential to significantly alter the demographic composition of the California electorate, making the population of registered voters more representative of the state as a whole. Our estimates also suggest that the new system may rapidly expand the voter rolls, adding more than 2 million new registrants in the first year.

Key implementation issues will decide the impact of the New Motor Voter Act. To ensure the law’s success, the state should require DMV customers to attest to their eligibility to vote as a precondition for completing their transaction. It will also be necessary to mobilize new registrants aggressively if they are to become new voters.

blog post

Californians’ Views on the Value of College

By Dean Bonner

Most Californians view the higher education system as very important to the state’s future, but differences in opinion emerge regarding the necessity of a college education.

blog post

Video: Broadening California’s Exclusive Electorate

By Linda Strean

The divide between voters and nonvoters has particular significance in California, where voters make important policy decisions through the initiative process—and at a time when economic inequality is a major theme, Mark Baldassare told a Sacramento audience.


Low-Income Students and School Meal Programs in California

By Caroline Danielson

School nutrition programs help improve nutrition among vulnerable children. In so doing, they help build a better future for these children and the state. Now that California is implementing the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), there is additional reason to make sure all students who are eligible for free or low-cost meals enroll in these programs. Along with English Learners and foster youth, low-income students—in other words, students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals—are targeted for additional funds under the LCFF. This renewed focus on enrollment could also prompt further consideration of participation in school nutrition programs.

This report looks at factors that might be linked to variations in student enrollment and participation in free or reduced-price meals. Not surprisingly, we find that districts with higher poverty rates identify higher levels of eligibility than wealthier districts. Low-income high school students appear to be enrolled at levels comparable to younger students, but students in elementary school districts are much more likely to participate in lunch programs than students in other types of districts. We also find that schools in districts with higher shares of foreign-born residents have modestly lower participation levels (but not identification of low-income students). Finally, we find evidence that schools with smaller enrollments are more successful than larger schools at identifying and serving low-income students.

One way to further the goal of full enrollment among low-income students is to cut the large share of low-income students who must submit applications for free or reduced-price meals. Achieving this objective is arguably an important part of a larger state effort to integrate social safety net programs and services.

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