(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.
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.
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.
Unintended 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.
Bottom 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.