California Legislature Approves Expansion of Motor Voter-Bill Would Increase Access to Voter Registration Services

August 31, 2012

Sacramento – Senate Bill 35 authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) was given final approval today by the State Senate.  It now goes to the Governor for his consideration.  SB 35 would increase the number of state agencies who are able to register voters, and it empowers the Secretary of State to enforce the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), commonly known as Motor Voter.  

“One of every 7 eligible voters lives in California, yet we rank 45th out of 50 states in voter registration. Nearly 7 million or 22% of eligible California voters are not registered to vote,” said Senator Alex Padilla.

“With SB 35, we have the opportunity to register millions of Californians when they apply for health care benefits through the California Health Benefit Exchange. Expanding registration opportunities will increase participation and strengthen our democracy,” said Senator Padilla.

“Our state should be a leader in encouraging voter participation. SB 35 takes that first step by expanding the state’s tools to engage and register voters. We can and should make voter registration standard practice at more state offices,” added Padilla.

Specifically, SB 35 would:

  • establish procedures to register voters in person and online in accordance with Motor Voter
  • require the California Health Benefit Exchange to provide online voter registration to its clients
  • allow the Secretary of State to conduct reviews of a state agency’s compliance with Motor Voter
  • require the Secretary of State and county elections officials to coordinate with the designated state agencies
  • require the Secretary of State’s online voter registration application process to be translated into Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Tagalog in accordance with Motor Voter

Motor Voter was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.  Motor Voter required state governments to expand the public’s access to voter registration when renewing a driver's license, vehicle registration or applying for social services. Following the passage of Motor Voter, Governor Pete Wilson designated the minimum number of required agencies, two. Since that time, despite California’s discretionary authority to do so, no additional agencies have been designated as voter registration agencies. SB 35 is the first time legislation has been introduced in California to further implement Motor Voter.  

Fully implementing Motor Voter can make a significant difference in voter registration. Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia have enacted policies to fully implement Motor Voter with dramatic results; Illinois saw an 1800% increase in monthly registrations; Missouri saw an 1450% increase, Ohio 800%, North California 530%, and in Virginia, a 400% increase. SB 35 would put California on track to realize similar gains in voter participation. Specifically, through the implementation of SB 35 we have the opportunity to register millions of Californians who apply for health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

The need for stronger compliance with Motor voter is demonstrated by the number of unregistered voters in California, especially among low-income citizens. Since the implementation of Motor Voter there has been an 87 percent decline in the amount of registration applications collected by California voter registration agencies.

A random field investigation carried out in 2009 by Project Vote, a national non-partisan voter organization, of 29 public assistance agencies in six counties, found only one that provided voter registration applications and services to clients.  Motor Voter requires that social service agencies provide their clients with a mail-in voter registration application when applying for benefits, renewing/recertifying benefits, and reporting a change of address. The agencies are also required to assist the client in filling out the voter registration application and submit the completed application for the client.

Senator Alex Padilla, 39, graduated from MIT with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  He currently serves on the Board of MIT and as President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He is Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and represents the more than 900,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District which includes most of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.  You can find more information about Senator Padilla at his website or follow him at his Fan Page on facebook.