Home>Articles>Sen. Bates: SB 57 Doesn’t ‘Scrap’ California’s Motor Voter Law

State Senator Patricia C. Bates. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)
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Sen. Bates: SB 57 Doesn’t ‘Scrap’ California’s Motor Voter Law

Automatically registering voters at DMV should be ‘opt-in’ process

By Katy Grimes, January 23, 2019 11:31 am

Offering voter registration opportunities at the California Department of Motor Vehicles is causing people to question the integrity of our election system, according to Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel). Bates authored Senate Bill 57 to make the needed legislative repairs.

However, a recent Los Angeles Times headline shouted, “GOP lawmaker pitches plan to kill California’s new DMV voter registration system.” But the headline is incorrect says the bill’s author, as are other recent headlines:

The Voice of San Diego reported, “Bates Moves to Kill Motor Voter Program.”

The San Diego Union Tribune said, “Blame California DMV, not ‘motor voter’ law, for problems.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed The California New Motor Voter Program into law in 2015, which automatically registers all “eligible” California voters to vote when they obtain or renew their driver’s licenses at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Senator Bates introduced Senate Bill 57, which would return voter registration at DMV offices to a voluntary “opt-in” process, rather than “opt-out.” In April 2018, California officials formally launched the system designed to automatically register those eligible to vote unless they specifically declined.

She and Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) called for an audit of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles in 2018, but at the direction of California Gov. Jerry Brown, the Democratic-led Legislature rejected the audit. 

In December, a DMV spokesman admitted the agency had been warned by the federal government that it had violated the two forms of identification requirement to obtain the federally required Real ID. The California DMV issued 2.3 million Real Identification cards to residents who used just a single form of documentation. That means those who obtained the cards will be required to provide a second proof of their identity, but the DMV said not immediately, but only when their ID cards come up for renewal.

Immediately after this announcement, DMV Director Jean Shiomoto abruptly retired. 

Senator Bates Gets a Taste of the DMV

Bates had to renew her own California drivers license in December, and was astounded by what she saw and experienced. “The system is confusing, misguided and super flawed,” Bates said. “The DMV is registering people not eligible to vote because they are not citizens.”

Shortly after her DMV visit, she introduced Senate Bill 57 “to prevent some of the problems Californians are experiencing at the Department of Motor Vehicles, including non-citizens being registered to vote and registration information being inaccurately changed. SB 57 makes voter registration an opt-in process to protect choice.”

“Last September, the DMV said they had sent the Secretary of State’s Office nearly 23,000 erroneous voter registrations as inaccurate customer information such as ‘voter preferences, vote-by-mail options, language and political party selections,’ were all misinterpreted,” The California Globe reported.

Bates said standing next to her at the DMV computer counter was an elderly man who admitted to being totally confused by the seven page questionnaire, which registers an applicant to vote. “He said, ‘I’m already registered to vote,’” Bates said. She tried to help him fill out the form accordingly, “but it was overly complicated and convoluted, and was seven pages long, and there was nowhere to click a box to say ‘I’m already registered.’”

Bates said she’s been contacted by scores of people who told her after visiting a DMV, they were dropped from their party registrations, or registered in the wrong party. One woman told Sen. Bates that she doesn’t want to be registered at all, but there was no way to indicate that on the DMV computer.

“If you want to change your party preference, update your address or if you don’t want to register to vote, that should be your choice, and not something forced upon you by the DMV or some bureaucrat in Sacramento,” Bates said. “We just need to change the form on the DMV computer.”

Bates is concerned about the misinformation being broadcast in the media. “Let me be clear, SB 57 doesn’t ‘scrap’ California’s ‘motor voter’ law,” she said. “The 1993 federal motor voter law requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at DMV offices, but it doesn’t mandate automatic voter registration. SB 57 doesn’t prohibit the DMV from offering registration opportunities.”

“The DMV is dealing with many problems. Having people question the integrity of our election system shouldn’t be one of them,” Bates added. “I’m hoping the new governor sees that the DMV needs an overhaul.”

Katy Grimes

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California's War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?
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