Letter to Governor Brown and Legislature on Voter Participation in New Motor Voter Program

VoterParticipation

Report #244, October 2018

OVERVIEW

Serious implementation errors have put the New Motor Voter Program in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, despite adding thousands of Californians to the voter rolls. Government failures with the program may serve to shake, if not seriously undermine, faith in the electoral process. The Commission found that more than 1.4 million eligible Californians opt out of registering to vote or fail to complete their registration through the program.

“California has one of the most diverse populations in the nation, but the state’s electorate does not reflect this,” Commission Chair Pedro Nava said. “The promise of the New Motor Voter Program, and other recent electoral reforms, lies in their ability to entice millions of eligible new and infrequent voters out to make their voice heard. But these mistakes weaken trust in government and discourage Californians form fulfilling their civic responsibility.”

As the new Administration sets its agenda, the Commission offers the following proposals for improved administration of this important program:

  1. In the first quarter of implementation, far too many eligible Californians chose not to register through the program. The Secretary of State should engage in activities to learn why eligible Californians opt out of registering to vote and report findings to lawmakers annually;
  2. The Secretary of State sends outreach postcards to eligible individuals who opt out of registering to vote through the New Motor Voter Program or who provide unclear or missing registration information. The Secretary of State should measure and determine the effectiveness and cost efficiency of these outreach efforts and consider other approaches where appropriate; and
  3. Effective administration of voter registration is critical to maintaining public trust in the electoral process. The California State Auditor should review the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Department of Technology’s administration of the New Motor Voter Program to ensure its long-term integrity.

The Little Hoover Commission is an independent state agency charged with recommending ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state programs. The Commission’s recommendations are submitted to the Governor and the Legislature for their consideration and action. The letter report is available at www.lhc.ca.gov.

In this report, the Little Hoover Commission calls for an overhaul of the New Motor Voter Program implementation. In enacting the program, lawmakers sought to ease registration processes for eligible voters and boost the number of Californians on the state’s voter rolls.

During its review, the Commission found that implementation errors at the Department of Motor Vehicles negatively altered thousands of voter records and improperly registered hundreds of others – mistakes that weaken the integrity of California’s electoral process. The Commission also found that despite efforts to make voter registration easier, many eligible voters continue to decline opportunities to register to vote while completing transactions at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Further, outreach efforts by the Secretary of State to communicate with these eligible voters do not include analysis to understand why so many individuals fail to take action. The Secretary of State and Department of Motor Vehicles could do more to understand why so many choose not to register and otherwise review the effectiveness of the new program.

The Commission recommended prompt action to correct administrative problems at the Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as evaluation by the Secretary of State to understand why the program is not successful for so many potential voters.

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