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California Governor Signs Landmark Automatic Registration Bill

California just became a national leader on voting rights. Automatic, permanent voter registration can help get millions of new voters on the rolls.

October 10, 2015

Today, Cali­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a bill that will auto­mat­ic­ally register eligible citizens to vote when they inter­act with the DMV. With approx­im­ately 6.6 million eligible but unre­gistered citizens, accord­ing to state estim­ates, the meas­ure could dramat­ic­ally boost Cali­for­ni­a’s regis­tra­tion rate, which was ranked 38th in the coun­try in 2012.

“Govern­ment should not impede a citizen’s right to vote. The New Motor Voter Act will make our demo­cracy stronger by remov­ing a key barrier to voting for millions of Cali­for­nia citizens,” said Cali­for­nia Secret­ary of State Alex Padilla. “I applaud Governor Brown for his lead­er­ship and bold action to increase voter parti­cip­a­tion in our state.”

“Cali­for­nia just became a national leader on voting rights,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Demo­cracy Program at the Bren­nan Center for Justice. “In too many states, our outdated and error-prone regis­tra­tion system blocks millions from the polls. Auto­matic perman­ent voter regis­tra­tion can trans­form voting in Amer­ica. Other states should look to Cali­for­nia as a bold new model for reform.”

The Golden State’s new law is part of a broader trend to modern­ize voting and move toward univer­sal regis­tra­tion. Cali­for­nia is the third state in the coun­try to pass — and the second state to enact — auto­matic regis­tra­tion, which puts the onus on the govern­ment to sign up eligible citizens. Cali­for­nia is by far the largest state to put in place auto­matic regis­tra­tion.

In March, Oregon became the first state to enact this ground­break­ing reform. New Jersey’s legis­lature passed a bill in June, but Gov. Chris Christie (R) has yet to sign it. Over­all, legis­lat­ors in 17 states plus Wash­ing­ton, D.C. have intro­duced similar propos­als. 

This momentum has also carried into the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race. Both former Secret­ary of State Hillary Rodham Clin­ton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have embraced auto­matic, univer­sal regis­tra­tion.

The push to modern­ize voting also comes amid a larger battle over voting rights in Amer­ica. Since the 2010 elec­tion, 21 states have new voting restric­tions in place — and 15 states will have stricter rules in effect in 2016 than they had in 2012. At the same time, since the 2012 elec­tion, 23 states plus the District of Columbia have passed new laws to improve voting.

Read more about Voter Regis­tra­tion Modern­iz­a­tion.

For more inform­a­tion, or to set up an inter­view, contact Erik Opsal (Bren­nan Center, erik.opsal@nyu.edu, 763–234–5907) or Sam Mahood (Secret­ary Padilla’s office, sam.mahood@sos.ca.gov, 916–653–6575).