Automatic voter registration in California takes a step back (2024)

Automatic voter registration in California takes a step back (1)

In summary

The Assembly elections committee passes a bill to expand voter registration, but not the automatic sign-up that supporters originally wanted. Instead, the proposal would create a “preapproved” list for registration.

The Assembly elections committee today approved a pared-back version of a bill that would have created an automatic voter registration system in California, with some cautious “yes” votes and continued concerns from opponents.

Senate Bill 299 by Sen. Monique Limón would have changed the current “opt-out” system of voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles to one where someone applying for a driver’s license or ID would be automatically registered if eligible and notified after — a system in place in 11 other states.

The bill was amended to take a step back, and instead just allow the Secretary of State to create a list of people “preapproved for registration” — those of voting age who have provided the DMV with proof of citizenship.

There are no details yet on what the trigger would be to move people on this proposed list to the rolls of registered voters, but it would require the person to take “some action to acknowledge and confirm their registration,” according to Neal Ubriani, policy and research director for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Responsive Government, the group behind the effort in other states. That addressed one concern expressed by elections committee Chairperson Gail Pellerin and opponents. Limón said passing the bill would allow stakeholders to develop that process.

The committee passed the bill on a 5-0 vote.

“I do believe the author and I and all the groups in support and opposition all have the same goal: To improve voter registration for all Californians,” Pellerin, a Democrat from Santa Cruz, said in her recommendation to support the bill.

“I do feel very strongly that voter registration should be something that a voter consents to do and knows that they’re doing that. I think we could set up the procedures for that with this pre-approved voter registration list.”

The bill is designed to try and sign up more of the 4.7 million Californians who are eligible but not registered — especially those from historically underrepresented communities.

The coalition behind the bill said the committee approval moves it closer to its goal: Getting more working-class, Black, Latinx, Asian American, and young people to vote, its representatives said.

“When we know who in our communities is eligible to vote, we, as trusted messengers, can do the necessary outreach, mobilization, and education to boost turnout,” said Sydney Fang, policy director for the advocacy group Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders for Civic Empowerment.

But the bill drew concerns from the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union’s political action committee and NALEO, a group that advocates for Latino community engagement, including whether the system might accidentally send ballots to voters who are not eligible, including noncitizens, and put them at risk of committing a crime if they send them back.

The bill was amended to add more safeguards to ensure only those eligible are registered, and the implementation date was extended to June 30, 2027, or whenever a system is certified.At the hearing, opponents said the amendments did not resolve their concerns.

“There is more work to be done on this issue in order to implement legislation that moves us closer to addressing concerns while accomplishing our goal of registering all eligible voters in the state,” Limón said in an email to CalMatters after the hearing.

The bill heads to the transportation committee next.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber has declined to comment on the effort, but appeared at the hearing to testify on another elections-related bill.

“I’m just grateful you didn’t call me to talk about the other bill,” she said in reference to SB 299. “I tried to dress in something that was inconspicuous so you would not know who I was, but it didn’t seem to work — my daughter winked her eye at me, so she gave me away.”

Her daughter, Assemblymember Akilah Weber, is a member of the elections committee. After initially abstaining, she voted in favor of the bill.


CalMattersis a Sacramento-based nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California's state Capitol works and why it matters. It works with more than 130 media partners throughout the state that have long, deep relationships with their local audiences, including Embarcadero Media.

Automatic voter registration in California takes a step back (2024)


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