In the aftermath of record-low voter turnout in California’s most recent midterm election, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a landmark measure into law on Saturday that would allow all eligible citizens of the state to be automatically registered to vote when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ office to obtain or renew a driver’s license.
The “New Motor Voter Act’ would allow Californians to opt out of registering to vote. In the November 2014 election, just 42% of registered voters cast ballots. According to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill, nearly seven million Californians were eligible but not registered 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 Secretary of State Alex Padilla who sponsored the bill. “Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process.”
The automatic registration law will go into effect in January 2016. Voters would retain their right to opt out or cancel their voter registration at any time, officials said.
The law is expected to benefit minority voters the most. Currently, only 62.8% of Latino and 50.7% of Asian-American residents are registered to vote in California. Latinos, the largest demographic group in the state, have the lowest participation rate- just 17.3 percent of them cast ballots in 2014, according to the California Civil Engagement Project.
The nation’s largest state now becomes the second adopt an automatic voter registration system. In March, Oregon became the first to enact the reform, a move that prompted legislators in 17 states.
In June, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island proposed a bill to automatic registration bill, which has been backed by 67 co-sponsors including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
The Congressional move gained further momentum when 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton endorsed the idea during a major campaign speech on voting rights.
New Jersey lawmakers have passed an automatic voter registration bill, but Gov. Chris Christie, who is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for president, appears unlikely to sign it.
“I don’t think that people ought to be automatically registered to vote,” Christie said in June. “Is it really too much to ask to ask someone to fill out a form?”