Quick Takes: Automatic Voter Registration

Gov. Brown recently signed a bill that allows residents of California to be automatically registered to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license or a state ID from the DMV.

Automatic Voter Registration Should Successfully Increase Turnout by Supporting Underprivileged Communities

Americans aren’t voting — at least, not at the rates that we should be voting. California, the state with the largest population in the United States, ranks 38th in the U.S. for voter registration, according to Huffington Post. However, starting this year that will change. Gov. Brown recently signed the automatic voter registration bill in California, which will allow Californians to be automatically registered to vote when they go to the DMV to renew their driver’s license or state ID. This is exactly the push that California voters need.

Although automatic voter registration won’t force any individual to vote, there’s a lot of data that suggests it will increase voting rates. In California, this largely means Latinos, Asian Americans, the poor (citizens earning less than $30,000) and young adults (ages 18 to 34). These communities already have very low voting turnout. Huffington Post reported that in 2014, only 17 percent of eligible Latinos and 18 percent of eligible Asian Americans actually voted. In California, young adults make up 32 percent of the population, but only 13 percent voted, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

While some may argue that there’s an inherent disinterest in voting among these groups, the data doesn’t support this claim. In the 2012 election, Demos.org reports that of citizens who were poor and were registered to vote, 80 percent voted, which is higher than the national average. These statistics show that when underrepresented communities have access to voting, their turnout increases at the polls. But we need to make it easier to vote in the first place. Automatic voting registration solves this problem.

Then there’s the most common argument against automatic voter registration. There is a paranoid cry of: “We will get voter fraud!” However, as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told Huffington Post, having voters registered through the DMV is a safe method because voters have to prove their age while also providing either a birth certificate or a passport. 

Compared to our current system of checking a box under penalty of perjury, this is a more cautious measure. In the end, the U.S. is a democracy, meaning that every citizen should have access to voting polls. Automatic voter registration is the best way to make this American dream a reality.

— AYAT AMIN Senior Staff Writer

In Order to Increase Turnout at the Polls, Voters Need a Better Incentive Than a Trip to the DMV

The new voter registration bill signed by Gov. Brown is not misguided so much as it is shortsighted. Though it seeks to increase political agency and activity, its methods for doing so are neither comprehensive nor responsive to the primary problem: low voter turnout, particularly among young people.

To begin with, the bill fails to take into account individuals who don’t have access to obtaining a driver’s license. In counties with unequal income and traditionally marginalized groups, fewer citizens actually acquire licenses. Data released by the California DMV show that only about 33 percent of eligible Los Angeles residents have driver’s licenses, while more affluent areas such as El Dorado (71 percent) and Santa Clara (73 percent) have much larger portions of their population obtaining licenses through the DMV. This does not mean that the new bill attempts to obstruct any population from voting. It merely illustrates that the measures being taken are not as inclusive as they should be.

On top of being slightly shortsighted, this bill provides yet another example of legislation that strikes at the leaves and branches of a problem without getting to its roots. Statistics published by California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen reported that the November 2014 general election had a record low turnout: Merely 42.2 percent of registered voters actually filled out a ballot. This dragging of feet to perform civic duties is particularly pervasive among millennials. The youth vote — those aged 18 to 24 — made up merely 3.9 percent of all ballots cast in California but accounted for 14.5 percent of the eligible voting population, according to a report released by the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis. Demographic divides in voter turnout also exist by district, with the lowest voter participation present in Los Angeles County, where only 31 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the last general election.

If the goal is to increase the number of citizens who can and will vote, the incentive ought to be more personal, palatable and appealing than a trip to the DMV. Encouraging young people and otherwise underrepresented individuals to exercise their substantial voting power can only be achieved by convincing these potential voters of their own agency — by educating, informing and mobilizing.

— HAILEY SANDEN Senior Staff Writer