Skip Navigation
Expert Brief

Automatic Voter Registration in California

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a transformative bill that could add millions of new voters to the rolls in the most populous state in the country. Other states should follow.

Published: October 12, 2015

With Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, California has become the second state to adopt automatic registration, an exciting reform that is gaining momentum across the country. California’s law has the potential to add millions of new voters to the rolls through automatic voter registration. State officials estimate that with approximately 6.6 million eligible but unregistered voters, the law could dramatically boost California’s registration rate, which ranked 38th in the country in 2012. California’s legislature is the third to pass automatic registration, based on a Brennan Center proposal.

Automatic registration makes two transformative changes to voter registration. Eligible citizens who interact with government agencies are registered to vote unless they decline, and agencies transfer voter-registration information electronically to election officials. By giving voters the opportunity to decline in person during their DMV interactions, California’s law will create a seamless, paperless process that will be more convenient and less error-prone for voters, DMV staff, and election officials.

In the lead-up to the signing of California’s bill into law, the Brennan Center and others encouraged Gov. Brown to heed his own call, during his 1992 Democratic National Convention speech, for the government to register every American through the use of technology.

The governor also received scores of letters from organizations, legislators, and constituents urging him to sign automatic voter registration into law.

Wide press coverage surrounded the California legislature’s monumental step forward in passing this bill.

Thousands of citizens urged the governor to sign AB 1461 through petition drives organized by grassroots civic groups: