Senate Committee Rejects Sen. Patricia Bates' Bill to Restore "Opt-in" Voter Registration at DMV

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee today rejected on a partisan vote Senate Bill 57 by Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) that would have restored “opt-in” voter registration at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

“Given that the Secretary of State’s office and the DMV have underplayed well-documented problems with automatic registration, today’s outcome was not a surprise,” said Senator Bates. “The decision to register to vote should be made by the individual – not the state. Those who oppose my bill fail to appreciate that an ‘opt-in’ process gives citizens more control over their own voter registrations and reduces opportunities for errors and fraud. I will continue to fight for election integrity, including working with my colleagues to make a simple fix to provide clarity to customers who visit DMV offices.”

Senate Bill 57 would have rolled back Assembly Bill 1461 (2015), which requires the DMV to automatically register Californians to vote when they obtain or renew driver's licenses or identification cards. Numerous progressive groups opposed AB 1461 because they were concerned that undocumented immigrants would be automatically registered to vote, putting them at risk of criminal penalties and deportation.

Senator John Moorlach, a co-author of SB 57, said after today’s vote, “Our state needs to develop a better system for DMV voter registration that gives people the ability to opt-in and verify their voter information. This vote was a missed opportunity to correct the errors that the current technology has generated.”

The DMV’s difficulties in implementing automatic voter registration has been well documented by media outlets over the past two years:

  • In December 2019, the Sacramento Bee reported that “At least 600 Californians, including lifelong Republicans and Democrats, have had their voter registration unexpectedly changed, and several county elections officials are pinning much of the blame on the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.”

  • In August 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported a state-conducted audit found that in just the first five months of the new version of Motor Voter, the DMV produced over 84,000 duplicate records and more than twice that number with political party mistakes.

  • In December 2018, the Sacramento Bee reported that the DMV director mishandled the registrations of more than 580 Californians who may have been wrongfully kept off the voter rolls in the 2018 election because of transmittal errors.

  • In October 2018, the Los Angeles Times reported that the state agency mistakenly registered another 1,500 ineligible residents, including non-citizens.

  • In October 2018, the Associated Press reported that California’s Secretary of State admitted that he was not able to confirm whether or not non-citizens voted in the June Primary.

  • In September 2018, the Sacramento Bee reported that the DMV transmitted 23,000 erroneous voter registrations.

  • In May 2018, the Los Angeles Times reported that a software error affected 77,000 voter registrations.

To learn more on why Senator Bates authored SB 57, click here to read her December 2019 op-ed in the Orange County Register.