How do you solve a problem like low voter turnout? This is the first question that California’s new Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s asked when he took office earlier this year. Hundreds of Californians weighed in with their ideas. Some people think voting should be more convenient, others think we need more information or better outreach. No matter the recommendation, most people agree that there is no silver bullet that will eliminate the problem altogether. We need multifaceted solutions to this increasingly complex problem of declining civic participation.
The first step that every voter has to take in order to participate in our democracy is to register and get added to the voter rolls. Thankfully California made that process a little bit easier by passing Online Voter Registration in 2011 which helped to register over 800,000 people in the first the first month of implementation. Now all eyes are on Oregon after recently passing a new motor voter law that automatically registers residents when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles, if they are not already. The first of its kind, this law will shift the voter registration paradigm to an “opt-out” system as opposed to “opt-in.”
Just this week Secretary of State Padilla recommended that California follow Oregon’s lead. California Common Cause agreed. Make voter registration easier for the 6.5 eligible but unregistered voters? Seems like a no-brainer.
Although a new, stronger Motor Voter law won’t solve the turnout problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.
There are lots of specifics that need to be worked out like what happens to immigrants who apply for a driver’s license at the DMV but are ineligible to vote? We want to make sure we aren’t creating unintended legal repercussions for anyone who is registered but ineligible to vote. By working with civil rights organizations, voting rights advocates, county registrars, state legislators and the Secretary of State, we hope to expand the political franchise to include a broader more diverse range of Californians. Because what you really want in a democracy is for everyone to participate. And you can’t participate if you aren’t even registered.