San Diego Union-Tribune: How motor voter opt-in process promotes election choice and integrity

By Patricia Bates
Thursday, March 28, 2019

Published by the San Diego Union-Tribune on March 28, 2019

More eligible people voting in our elections is a good thing for our representative democracy. But automatically registering people to vote without their explicit approval at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has led to unacceptable errors affecting our elections and unfairly putting people at risk of violating election laws.

I recently introduced Senate Bill 57 to make voter registration an opt-in process to prevent some of the problems Californians have already experienced at the DMV. This includes the registration of noncitizens and the inaccurate input of the information of eligible voters, such as the designation of a different party preference than the one they actually chose. An opt-in process would better respect the right of California’s U.S. citizens to register or not register to vote because it puts the choice in their hands, instead of the state registering them by default.

Some people have claimed that my bill “scraps” California’s “motor voter” law, which is not true. The 1993 federal motor voter law requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at DMV offices, but it does not mandate automatic voter registration. Senate Bill 57 does not prohibit the DMV from offering registration opportunities.

Others who oppose my bill have used the “voter suppression” slogan, as if my bill would prevent eligible people from voting or registering to vote, which is false. This phrase is used as a scare tactic to try to change the subject and Californians should not be fooled by it.

The bottom line is that if you want to change your party preference, update your address, or if you do not want to register to vote, that should be your choice — not something forced upon you by the DMV or some bureaucrat in Sacramento.

Automatic voter registration has led to many troubling concerns that simply cannot be brushed aside. In 2018 alone, mainstream media outlets reported multiple problems such as these:

In May 2018, the public learned that a software error affected 77,000 voter registrations, which in some cases resulted in two registration forms for a single voter. Left unfixed, a voter could have received two ballots.

In September 2018, it was reported that the DMV transmitted 23,000 erroneous voter registrations to the California Secretary of State’s Office. In some cases, people were registered in the wrong party while others who wished to opt-out of voter registration were added anyway.

In October 2018, the public learned that the DMV mistakenly registered 1,500 ineligible residents, including people who were not U.S. citizens. A Canadian citizen who lives in California received a notice stating he was newly registered to vote in the state. The only reason we heard of this particular incident is because he contacted a news outlet to let them know what happened. He had tried to get a replacement driver’s license at a DMV field office and ended up later receiving a voter registration notice in the mail.

If he wanted to, the Canadian could have kept quiet and voted in the general election — and may have gotten away with it given the lack of strong safeguards to verify voter identities. I am thankful for that man’s honesty in refusing to take advantage of a mistake by DMV officials. But could we say the same thing among the hundreds — maybe thousands — of people who were mistakenly registered and did not choose to contact the DMV to correct the mistake?

The examples above illustrate the drawbacks of having the DMV automatically register people without their explicit consent. My bill would simply return the state’s motor voter program to what it was before automatic registration became law in 2015 — opt-in registration.

On April 2, the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee will consider Senate Bill 57 at the state Capitol. I hope the committee will agree that enacting Senate Bill 57 into law would be a step in the right direction to increase trust in our elections.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is dealing with many problems. Having people question the integrity of our election system should not be one of them.