Political Notebook

Dan Walters: California voter law could disappoint salivating Dems

Judging from Twitter traffic and other indices of political weather, Democratic activists are downright giddy about California’s new “motor voter” law.

They see the state’s voter rolls swelling by more than 6 million persons, most of whom would be Democrats, leading to higher voter turnouts and protecting the party’s candidates from otherwise declining participation.

Had the measure, Assembly Bill 1461, passed in its almost-final form, that buoyant attitude might have been justified.

To get enough votes for Senate passage, however, it underwent a major change, weakening its potential impact.

Previously, it had said those who applied to the Department of Motor Vehicles for new driver’s licenses or identification cards, renewed them or changed addresses would be automatically registered to vote and then contacted after the fact for verification – emulating Oregon’s program.

The change on Sept. 4 said that the DMV would register those who confirm they are eligible to vote (age 18 or older and citizens) unless they decline. Thus, it’s merely a relatively minor change from current law, under which the DMV offers voter registration to its customers.

While Democratic politicians, unions and other allies still supported the revised bill, civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups pulled off before the final vote, believing that it didn’t go far enough.

Moreover, while the law takes effect Jan. 1, the DMV won’t start sending new voter information to the secretary of state’s office until new regulations have been developed on the opt-out provision and the SOS has a new statewide voter database in place. So nothing is likely to happen in time to affect the 2016 elections.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla acknowledges the lack of immediate impact, but says that by 2018, “I expect millions of new voters on the rolls…”

That’s unlikely as well.

Most California drivers don’t have licensure business with the DMV more often than every few years, if that. Only those who aren’t already registered to vote would be affected and at least some of them would decline to be added to the rolls. After all, for whatever reason, they’ve already spurned numerous other opportunities to register.

(Some of those on the political right have voiced fears about illegal immigrants, who have recently gained the right to get driver’s licenses, being added to the voter rolls. That appears to be a scant possibility, since their licenses are distinctly different from those of citizens and legal immigrants.)

Finally, even if the 6 million-plus new registered voters that Democratic politicians envision eventually do materialize, that doesn’t mean they will actually vote. Again, these are folks who had already opted out of politics by not registering, so just adding them to the rolls doesn’t change their inclinations.

Indeed, the most likely net effect is that turnout as a percentage of registered voters will still decline as voter rolls are expanded with millions of alienated Californians.

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