Sec of State Looks at Oregon Motor Voter Law To Boost California Turnout


ballot-mailAs California struggles to address historic low voter turnout, new Secretary of State Alex Padilla sees promise in a new Motor Voter law signed into law last week by Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

“While many states are making it more difficult for citizens to vote, our neighbor to the north offers a better path,” said Secretary Padilla, California’s chief elections official. “I believe the Oregon model makes sense for California.

“One of the biggest barriers to citizen participation is the voter registration process. A new, enhanced Motor Voter law would strengthen our democracy.  It would be a game changer,” said Secretary Padilla. “While Oregon could expand its voter rolls by as much as 300,000 voters through their new enhanced Motor Voter process, California could expand its rolls by millions.”

“There are nearly seven million eligible but unregistered California voters.” Padilla said. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Election Performance Index, California ranked 38th in voter registration in 2012.

“This change may not happen overnight, but if we are serious about increasing voter turnout, we should follow Oregon’s lead and commit ourselves to registering as many California citizens as possible,” Padilla said.

The new Oregon law will register citizens to vote or update their registration when they get or renew a driver’s license.  “For all those citizens who want to exercise their voting rights, we should make every effort to facilitate their participation,” Padilla added.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that Oregon estimates the new law will add 300,000 new voters to its rolls. There are currently nearly 900,000 more drivers than registered voters, however not all are eligible and some can still opt out.

That would make Oregon the second highest state in terms of voter registration – passing Alabama but remaining behind Maine’s 94.99 percent registration which is even higher than Australia ‒ which has compulsive voter laws.

In 1998, Oregon became the first state to adopt vote-by-mail elections. Last November, when most states had scant participation, Oregon was among just six states to surpass 50 percent turnout.

The Associated Press noted that those states ‒ Maine, Wisconsin, Colorado, Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon ‒ have over the past six years been the top performers.

The AP reported, “The states with consistently high turnout tend to make it easy to cast ballots. Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin allow voters to register on Election Day. Colorado, Oregon and Washington state hold elections exclusively by mail.”

Oregon, however, topped them all with nearly 70 percent turnout in a midterm election.

California, in the meantime, in 2014 shattered its previous low in November with just 42.2 percent, which obliterated its previous midterm low of 50.6 percent in 2002.

Experts were mixed as to whether this was just a down year with a lack of a contested major statewide election for governor or senator, and the lack of truly compelling statewide initiatives, or whether it was the quickening of a downward trend.

It is not for lack of effort. In 2012, then Senator Alex Padilla and Governor Brown pushed through SB 34, which enabled voters to register to vote through the Affordable Care Act, ostensibly opening the door for millions of Californians to be offered the opportunity to register to vote.

“With the Governor’s signature, California becomes the first state in the nation to offer voter registration through implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” said Senator Padilla back in 2012. “This continues our commitment to maximizing voter registration and participation. Last week, California launched a new on-line voter registration system and more than 20,000 Californians registered to vote in the first 24 hours alone.  With SB 35, we further expand voter registration opportunities that will increase participation and strengthen our democracy.”

That marked the third major voting access bill signed in 2012. Other legislation allowed Californians to register to vote online and on Election Day.

However, those initiatives did little to encourage voting in 2014.

Secretary Padilla clearly hopes that a new motor voter bill will increase participation. California may want to look at all-mail ballot elections, as well.

But some of the reports indicate it is not just access but the culture of the state that is driving voter turnout, and that may be too much to expect to change.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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18 thoughts on “Sec of State Looks at Oregon Motor Voter Law To Boost California Turnout”

      1. Barack Palin

        Yes, I’m worried about that.  Illegals aren’t ‘legally’ allowed to vote and should be screened out of Internet and motor-voter applications.  Once again, what safeguards are in place?

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          But why are you worried about that when it’s clear that residents are motivated to vote, why do you think non-resident are suddenly going to motivated to show up in numbers when residents aren’t?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            No. I see this as a manufactured crisis. When we can’t get our residents to vote, I don’t non-residents are chomping at the bit to jump in there.

        2. Barack Palin

          Since CA just recently made it easy for illegals to get a driver’s license this is in fact a huge issue being that it now looks like Alex Padilla will be pushing a new motor-voter law.  Illegals shouldn’t have the power to sway any elections.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Those getting a driver’s license under AB 60 would obviously be prevented from registering to vote. I just see this as a manufactured issue when it’s darn near impossible to get people out to vote who are eligible, suddenly there’s going to be a rash of people who are ineligible voting? Doesn’t wash.

          2. Don Shor

            In Oregon, people must provide a birth certificate or passport to get a driver’s license or register a car….Information the DMV has on file, such as age, residential information, signature and citizenship status, will be transferred to the secretary of state, who will then automatically update registration information.

            What Oregon is doing is automatically registering anyone who has interacted with the DMV, then providing those people with the right to opt out.
            If drivers licenses are going to be issued to undocumented immigrants in California, then the Secretary of State’s office will need to be where a voter registrant’s legal status would be determined. Or the DMV would have to provide licenses separately to people who don’t have legal documents such as passports or birth certificates, and the Secretary of State would have to process that information separately.

            State law requires motorists to prove identity and legal presence to obtain a driver license. Under AB 60, motorists who cannot prove legal presence must prove identity and California residency—and pass the required vision test, driver license knowledge test, and the behind-the-wheel drive test—to obtain a license. The regulations posted today list the documents DMV will accept to verify the identity and California residence of future applicants.

            So it would be relatively easy to separate those who aren’t here as citizens, simply on the basis of the documents they provide the DMV in order to obtain a license.

        3. Barack Palin

          Totally washes, even if only one disenfranchises the system, it’s one too many.  Just like the Democrats who like to bring up that one 90 year old grandma that doesn’t have an I.D. and can’t get out of the house to get one so therefor people shouldn’t have to be ID’ed in order to vote.  You can’t have it both ways.

        4. hpierce

          David… you keep using the word “resident” as in a resident of California… someone who lives here, regardless of “citizens(hip)” which is the word BP uses.  I have a SERIOUS issue about having “non-residents” (i.e. not residents of California) voting in ANY local/State election in California.  That’s just wrong.  Can you vote (or expect to vote) in another State?

          Another term used… “illegals”… when it comes to voting, convicted felons are barred from voting as much as non-residents, non-citizens.  What do y’all mean when you say “illegals”?

          Currently, you can register to vote @ most if not all DMV sites.  Big problem… I’ve been a poll worker for ~ 20 years, and #2 on the problems we encounter with voters is that they registered/re-registered (due to moving) in the previous 1- 6 months, and that registration paperwork never gets to Yolo County Elections.

          Also, one of the reasons for low turn-out “rates”, particularly in Davis, is high turnover of “residents”, particularly students.  Someone lives in Davis, 2-4 years, with 2-3 “residences”, should appear 2-3 times on the Yolo County voter rolls.  You’re supposed to re-register each time you move, as it may affect which elections you should be voting in.  It is not uncommon, particularly for students, to ‘register’ either forgetting that they were previously registered, or neglect to cite their previous Yolo County residence when they re-register.  Yolo County do a pretty good job in ‘cleaning up the rolls’, IF the new forms are filled out properly.

          Then there are the students (or other ‘residents) who move out of the County.  There is no system that I know of that communicates to Yolo County when someone leaves the county (or State), even if they register to vote in their new locale.

          Yolo County, as most, tend to keep folk on the rolls unless the elections folks are notified of death, etc.  I think you have to miss 3-5 general elections to have the County flag someone as “inactive”, but they are still on the rolls.  David, suggest you communicate with Freddie Oakley to confirm what I’m saying and/or elaborate.

          Finally, I’m not sure I want to expand the voter rolls, if the newbies are “bullet voters” who don’t inform themselves and think for themselves, and instead make their choices based on the rhantoric of those out in the second deviation of the right or left.  As perhaps Napolean Pig would say, “sheep shouldn’t have the right to vote”.

    1. Topcat

      What safeguards are currently in place to keep illegals from registering to vote either through motor-voter or on-line registration?

      Good question.  I would like to know too. Perhaps someone familiar with the Oregon law can elaborate on the safeguards?

      Edit – It looks like Don has answered the question. Thanks.

  1. Tia Will


    what safeguards are in place”

    I agree that this is a good question. Not so much because I believe that there would be serious abuse by illegals, but because I believe that is one of the few credible arguments that could be put forth by those whose real desire is to limit the voting of those eligible citizens who they will not vote the same way that they would. Put in strong safeguards, and you eliminate this largely spurious argument against greater participation.

    1. Barack Palin

      Typical Democrat talking point.  If one wants safeguards in place to make sure only eligible people can vote then they must be trying to suppress the turnout.  I say it’s just the opposite, Democrats want to make it easy for illegals to vote because they vote for Democrats.

      1. Frankly

        BP – from that liberal point of view it is a travesty if we require ID at the polling place only if one voter was precluded from voting… but it is fine if we make it easier for people to vote even if several ineligible votes gets tabulated.

        Liberals only support the laws that back their political and ideological pursuits.  If they would just admit it we could have a good conversation about the pros and cons of each approach.  However, instead they posture as being so righteous and adamant that we are a nation of laws… and this is why I write stuff critical of liberals.

        The way I look at it registering to vote and actually being organized enough to consider how to vote when you move is a minimal test for qualifications to wield a ballot button.  Too many stupid people voting and we get the wrong result.

        1. hpierce

          Of course, Frankly, you do know that, under current California law, it is illegal to require photo, other ID, at the polls, if the voter is listed, verifies orally their address, and signs the roster which says, ‘under penalty of perjury’ that they are the registered voter that they purport to be?  Or are you thinking we should further “tighten” the poll process?

      2. hpierce

        “… for illegals to vote because they vote for Democrats.”  Please cite evidence or this.  Unless you can cite credible sources that “illegals” vote, and their vote = a vote for a Democrat, I call “stupid” BS.

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