Voting Rights Groups Secure Agreement for Easy DMV Registration

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  • Kathay Feng
Settlement in “Motor Voter” Case in Time for 2018 Elections

SACRAMENTO—Millions of Californians who renew their driver’s license or state identification by mail will be able to use the renewal form to register to vote or update their voter registration starting in April of 2018.

The changes to the DMV registration process are the result of a negotiated settlement in a federal lawsuit brought by Morrison & Foerster, Demos, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.

“The freedom to vote is the most critical component of our nation’s democracy and difficulty registering is one of the greatest barriers to exercising that freedom,” said Kathay Feng, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “There are more than 5.5 million eligible but unregistered voters in California and people of color are disproportionately represented in that group.”

The case began in 2015, when the plaintiffs noticed widespread violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), a law requiring DMV to incorporate voter registration into applications, renewals, and changes of address. The DMV subsequently incorporated voter registration into its applications and online renewals pursuant to a 2016 Memorandum of Understanding with plaintiffs, but refused to incorporate voter registration into its mail renewal process. 

The lawsuit was filed against the California DMV in May of 2017 on behalf of the League of Women Voters of California, California Common Cause, ACCE Institute, and UnidosUS, It charged the state was failing to offer federally mandated voter registration opportunities to millions of Californians.

The new procedures will be implemented as part of the New Motor Voter Act, also known as AB 1461, which requires that eligible citizens get registered to vote during their DMV transactions unless they opt-out of voter registration.