Motor vote

Common Cause hails new Secretary of State initiative while ACLU sued the same office for lack of voter outreach

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the August 9, 2018, issue.

A joint effort between California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the Department of Motor Vehicles managed to get 250,000 new registered voters on the rolls between April and June, according to the government watchdog group Common Cause. But the effort to push more people to the ballot box in California is far from over.

On July 24, the American Civil Liberty Union’s Northern California chapter sued Padilla for allegedly providing insufficient voter registration locations for low-income and disabled individuals, the sorts of people who might have a hard time getting to DMV offices where the secretary’s lauded program was happening.

“California, of all places, really should, in this day and age, be doing everything that we can to make sure that these groups are able to exercise their right to vote to the fullest,” said ACLU staff attorney Shilpi Agarwal.

Kathay Feng, executive director for California Common Cause, estimated that 4-to-6 million people in the state aren’t registered to vote, despite being eligible. Feng’s hopeful about the new DMV program, which was mandated nationally in the 1990s but took a lawsuit and state legislation to finally implement.

“I think we’re going to be able to get a few million people who are added to the voter registration rolls … fairly soon,” Feng told SN&R.

Of course, registering voters in California’s just half the battle. Jonathan Stein, an attorney for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, noted some abysmal voter participation stats. These include 18 percent of eligible Latinos and 17 percent of eligible Asian-Americans voting in California’s 2014 midterms.

“It’s so easy and natural to say, ‘Oh, look at North Carolina,’ or ‘Look at Texas,’ or ‘Look at Ohio,’ and ‘Look at Florida,’ where there’s really restrictive laws with regards to voting,” Stein said. “And we don’t have those laws in California, which is great. But we still have really significant voter participation disparities.”