Op-Ed: Dems Should Dump New Motor Voter Bill


i dont voteBy Bob Mulholland
Special to Calbuzz

(The conventional wisdom among Sacramento Democrats is that Assembly Bill 1461, to register automatically anyone who obtains or renews a driver’s license, is a terrific idea to enfranchise millions and address California’s disgraceful voter turnout.

To our great surprise, Bob Mulholland, Democratic National Committee member, dedicated career operative and true believer, argues that the conventional wisdom is wrong. This is a version of a letter he sent on Tuesday to Secretary of State Alex Padilla and others, who trumpet the legislation as a great reform).

I join many others in opposition to AB 1461, which would force people onto the voter registration rolls – without their permission.

I started registering Democrats (pre-postcard, implemented July 1, 1976) when citizens could not register themselves. We used a county-provided booklet (8.5 X 14″) with carbon paper.  The turnout in the presidential election in November 1972 (age 18-21 could vote for the first time) was 82.1% in California and it was 81.5% in November 1976, but 1976 had 458,748 fewer voters. The enthusiasm of the youth vote had already dropped.

Poll-tax1The history of the world: Over the last 100 years, governments have made significant improvements in the voter registration and voting process in California. The most important:

1. The XIX Amendment (1920) “granting” the right to vote to women.

2. All Native Americans were finally, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, given the right to vote.  After WWII, 25,000 Native American veterans were denied the right to vote in some states.

3. The XXVI Amendment passed (1971) lowering the age to vote to 18.

4. In 1972, the deadline to register to vote was reduced from 54 days to 30 days.

5. In 1975, the deadline was reduced to 29 days (Mondays).

6. On July 1, 1976, pre-postage paid voter registration cards went into effect.

18CanVote17. Gov. Jerry Brown (yes, the same Brown) signed legislation (implemented in 1978), to allow registered voters to vote by mail without needing a reason, such as traveling, being sick, etc.

8. Motor Voter became effective in California on June 19, 1995, after a court battle with Republican Gov. Pete Wilson who blocked it. This put a box on all government forms whereby a citizen could voluntarily register to vote.

9. Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation (Speaker Hertzberg’s bill) in 2000 reducing the deadline to register to vote to 15 days.

10. Gov. Davis also signed legislation in 2000, which allowed any voter to sign up as a Permanent Absentee Voter (PAV).  Both Republican Governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson previously vetoed such measures.

11.One of the best changes, giving full access to registering to vote, came when Secretary of State Debra Bowen updating the SOS website in the fall of 2012, allowing nearly a million people to register to vote. Registration increased a net of 1,092,271 from June to November 2012.  But in 2008 the net change was even greater at 1,180,304. The 2008 presidential election was more interesting than the 2012 election. The 2008 turnout was 79.4% vs. only 72.4% in 2012.

12. The Student Voter Registration Act of 2003

13. Now we are moving to limited Election Day registration.

All these changes have made the registering/voting process more user-friendly.  In 2014, the turnouts in both June (25.2%) and in November (42.2%) were the lowest ever in California.

Key point: These dismal turnouts had nothing to do with the registration process.

aliUnintended consequences loom: If AB 1461 had already been implemented, the November turnout would have been in the 30s. And none of these changes forced a citizen onto the voter registration files, without their permission.

In Kentucky, a county clerk refused to issue marriage certificates to gay couples.  We are aghast once again, like in the 1960s, to see clerks not following the law. Would the California Legislature consider a bill to marry all non-married co-habituating gay couples, without their permission, but give them 21 days to notify the government that they want to be divorced?

Eminent domain allows governments, through a legal process, to take ownership of private property (with just reimbursement) for the public good. That makes sense to most people. What I and many others find disturbing is that the Legislature is moving a bill to force a citizen to be registered to vote, as if a person was just eminent domain! Australia forces people to vote and they get fined, if they don’t vote — a terrible idea.

The language in this bill that states, if a person is ineligible to vote, but is registered to vote due to this legislation, and do vote, they will not be held legally accountable.

Murphy’s Law ensures there will be such people who get such notices from the government and will vote. Then the stories will go from newspaper front pages to across the country. The angle will be that California is not only welcoming undocumented immigrants but they are allowing them to vote.

Egg on everyone’s face, and it will used by some legislatures to advocate more stringent measures to block more people from voting.

padillaBottom line: There are many reasons, why citizens do not want to register to vote: they don’t like any of us; English is their second language; they are struggling with our low minimum wage; they are stretched with two jobs and kids, they mistakenly believe it means jury duty, etc.

I have been involved in politics for more than 40 years, including 19 years with the California Democratic Party doing campaigns, conventions and media.

Our joint work over the decades was to open the process up but never to use government power to force someone into the voting process.

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There are 6 comments for this post

  1. avatar cawaterguy says:

    For better or worse, there’s an expectation of effortlessness today, as we see in Uber economy today.

    I’m not sure why Bob is convinced that Californians would be confused or cares that Fox News might say CA is “not only welcoming undocumented immigrants, but allowing them to vote.” I see where’s he coming from but there’s a lot of pessimistic assumptions there.

    • avatar Bob Mulholland says:

      57.8% (10.3 million) of registered voters declined last November to cast a ballot. These are people who voluntarily registered to vote and 10.3 million decided not to vote. Now the politicians say let’s register to vote millions of people who have decided not to register to vote despite being asked to on government forms many times.

  2. avatar Skaarup says:

    I am baffled at this letter from my good friend Bob. He spells out the history of voter registration limitations and then makes the completely unsupported and astonishing notion that registration is easy, and that it has nothing to do with low turnout, so Padilla’s bill is unneeded.

    I have personally registered over 11,000 citizens to vote. Some people used to regard me as the voter registration Guru, as I directed voter registration programs for many years for both the Assembly Dems and then Senate Dem caucuses. I have for years tried to make the case that registration is unnecessary.

    For example, if you owe the government $13.00, they will find you, even issue a warrant for your arrest and track you down. But if you want to vote,
    “Oh, please fill out this 14-box form, and don’t make any mistakes, or we will mail you another form and tell you to try again.” That is absurd.

    Voter registration laws were promulgated to lock people out, and the notion that we have to pre-register to vote is antiquated and discriminatory. The state government already has the pertinent information required to match identity and eligibility. (Upwards of 94% of Californians have a state-issued driver’s license or Identification card). And that’s just the DMV. There are hundreds of other agencies that issue licenses, benefits, certifications, etc.

    I am ecstatic about Secretary Padilla’s bill. Some estimates project this would add 9 million voters to the rolls. This is a wonderful thing.

    I retired from politics a couple years ago, but it is personally gratifying to see my 25 years of commitment to full enfranchisement may finally be realized.

    I really am astounded that former colleague Bob Mulholland would oppose this measure. I enthusiastically support it the bill, and look forward to Alex Padilla’s leadership on this issue.

    Will Skaarup

    • avatar Bob Mulholland says:

      No free society should have laws that forcefully puts people without their knowledge on the voter registration rolls, as if government knows best. Freedom means Choice. Any person who uses the DMV sees on each form- Register to Vote? Check off here, etc. When the person decides No, what part of No does the government not understand.

    • avatar Bob Mulholland says:

      Will- that’s a message- yes there are many opportunities for citizens to register to vote and millions don’t- we should respect their views!

  3. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    There may be “a lot of pessimistic assumptions” there, but the right-wing bogeyman of “illegals” voting is a huge driving force behind the current red-state rush to disenfranchise voters by instituting onerous prequalification procedures on the electorate. Why in God’s name would anyone want to make that straw-man argument easier?

    For the legislation to include in it a caveat about “ineligible voters” not being held accountable for voting “in error,” clearly there’s a realization that persons ineligible to vote will be added to the rolls. The mere spectre of disallowed votes swinging a close race will force many into recount, and taint many others, all at significant cost (both economically and politically).

    I wholeheartedly supported issuing driver’s licenses to the undocumented. Ensuring a basic level of competence behind the wheel, adding them to the insurance rolls, and providing authorities with basic identification data were, in my view, all worthwhile goals. But adding an automatic voter enrollment to the driver’s licensing process is just a bad idea. The two should not be linked, as one is a privilege of citizenship and the other a privilege of residence.

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