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 7 million Californians were eligible but not registered to vote.
Following up on a report from last month, it was earlier this year when Oregon took a historic step, turning the traditional model for voter registration on its head. Though the trend in recent years has shown some Republican state policymakers making registration more difficult in many states, Gov. Kate Brown (D) and the Democratic-led legislature made Oregon the nation’s first state with an opt-out, rather than an opt-in, model.
For years, the burden has been on the individual -- if you’re eligible to vote, it’s up to you to take the affirmative steps needed to register. Oregon, however, embraced automatic voter registration, though anyone who wants to withdraw from the system voluntarily is free to do so.
And now, Oregon has some company.
The law will take effect in January.
So, for voting-rights advocates, that's two down, 48 to go. Which state is next?
There are actually quite a few proposals pending in legislatures nationwide, and the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law recently published a breakdown of each of the pending efforts at the state level.
In the meantime, the idea is gaining national prominence, and Hillary Clinton has incorporated automatic voter registration as part of her presidential platform.
In Congress, a bill to create automatic registration nationwide, pushed by David Cicilline (D-R.I..), has picked up 67 co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats, which means the proposal effectively has no chance in a Republican-led Congress.