California Governor Signs Landmark Automatic Registration Bill

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 PĂ©rez, 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 “In too many states, our outdated and error-prone registration system blocks millions from the polls.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).