The mission of the Department of Motor Vehicles is to license drivers, register vehicles, secure identities and regulate the motor vehicle industry. Given the news reports of outrageous wait times, the DMV is having tremendous difficulty carrying out its most basic duties. But wait, there’s more. Three years ago, California State Senate Republicans foreshadowed a problem with Assembly Bill 1461 (2015) also known as the Motor Voter Law. AB 1461 directs the DMV to automatically register new drivers as voters unless they opt out. At that time, we expressed our concerns about adding to the DMV’s already heavy workload. Furthermore, voter registration was not an area of expertise for the DMV. Fast track three years later and we learned of a troubling problem which adds to the woes of the DMV.
It is disturbing news to hear that the DMV sent the Secretary of State approximately 23,000 erroneous voter registrations. Some drivers who wished to opt out of the program had their information sent to the Secretary of State even though they did not fill out the voter registration forms. The DMV also made mistakes that assigned some voters a different political party preference than the one they chose. We sincerely hope this was not a case of voter fraud. Once again, the DMV falls into the epitome of a state agency that just can’t get it right. It already has been criticized by the public for long wait times which the agency blames on an antiquated computer system and the REAL ID roll-out, a federal law passed in 2005 and needs to be implemented by 2020. Before the 2018 legislative session concluded in August, there was a call for an audit of the DMV by a group of Assembly Republicans. At the hearing convened by members of the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit, DMV Director Jean Shiomoto apologized for the long wait times and reassured the committee that the problem would be corrected by the end of the year.
The request for an audit failed after some members of the majority party did not vote for it. Now, there is another woe adding to the long list of problems at the DMV: the mishandling of tens of thousands of voter registrations enacted by the motor voter law. Senate Republicans expressed concerns that it would undermine the integrity of the electoral system. With this latest news, the public has lost confidence with the DMV. Something needs to be done to gain that trust back. The best way to do so is for the DMV to undergo a nonpartisan audit, which would reveal the extent of its problems and recommendations for fixing them. Enough excuses. Let’s audit the DMV now.
Senator Patricia Bates represents the 36th Senate District in the California Legislature, which covers South Orange County, North San Diego County and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. She is the Senate Republican Leader.