Earlier this week AB 1461 (Gonzalez), passed out of both the Assembly Transportation Committee and the Assembly Elections Committee. The legislation would update existing California’s Motor Voter Law to automatically register eligible Californians to vote unless they decide to opt out. CALPIRG supports the legislation, which is strongly backed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Below is our official letter of support.
April 24, 2015
The Honorable Jim Frazier The Honorable Sebastian Ridley-Thomas
Chair, Assembly Transportation Committee Chair, Elections & Redistricting Committee
1020 N Street Room 112 1020 N Street, Room 365
Sacramento, California 95814 Sacramento, California 95814
Re: Assembly Bill 1461 (Gonzalez) – Automatic Voter Registration – SUPPORT
Dear Chairman Frazier and Chairman Ridley-Thomas,
A well-functioning democracy depends on the participation of its citizens. That is why CALPIRG supports policies that remove barriers to voting. CALPIRG has supported policies to adopt online voter registration, allow for conditional voter registration on Election Day, expand options to vote by mail, and other reforms. We also staff and run the non-partisan New Voters Project here in California to help reach out to young people to encourage them to register and vote. Our comments in particular are focused on our direct experience doing outreach to young voters, particularly students, who are often voting for the very first time in your lives.
According to a study done by UC Davis’ Center for Regional Change, in the 2014 midterm general election, youth were registered to vote at the lowest rate of any age group, at 52 percent, compared to above percent for all other age groups. In other words, nearly half of all eligible youth are not even registered to vote. That means that they do not receive information from their local elections official about the upcoming election, nor do they receive any outreach from the campaigns, creating a cycle of neglect.
This is especially concerning because numerous studies have shown that voting is habit forming, and youth who vote while they are young are more likely to become life-long voters. We are very concerned about the abysmally low turnout in the most recent general election, and what that could mean for participation rates in future years.
Automatic voter registration would help to remove one barrier that prevents participation, and for that reason should be supported. We would like to acknowledge and emphasize that there are important policy issues that need to be worked out carefully as this bill advances, including but not limited to the process for screening out Californians who are ineligible to vote and the process for ensuring the privacy of personal information, especially of individuals who need extra protections like law enforcement and victims of domestic violence. We urge the legislature and Secretary of State to consider these issues carefully, listen to stakeholders’ concerns, and ensure that the implementation of automatic voter registration prioritizes quality over speed.
Furthermore, to truly an engaged and participatory electorate, we must all acknowledge that voter registration is only the first step and is not a panacea to low voter turnout. It must be complimented by voter outreach and education in order to create an electorate that is engaged and informed. We view
automatic voter registration as beneficial not only because it will remove one barrier that prevents individuals from voting, but also because it will result in county elections officials and civic engagement groups like ours to be able to spend more resources on needed outreach, public education, and engagement, instead of voter registration.
In closing, we applaud the Secretary of State and this bill’s authors for pushing this important policy proposal forward, and urge your committee to support AB 1461.
California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG)
Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network
Emily is the senior director for state organizations for The Public Interest Network. She works nationwide with the state group directors for PIRG and Environment America to help them build stronger organizations and achieve greater success. Emily was the executive director for CALPIRG from 2009-2021, overseeing a myriad of CALPIRG campaigns to protect public health, protect consumers in the marketplace, and promote a robust democracy. Emily works in our Oakland, California, office, and loves camping, hiking, gardening and cooking with her family.