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Will California’s New Motor Voter Law Boost Turnout?

SDSU political science professor Brian Adams and Chris Wilson, associate director of Alliance San Diego, discuss California's Motor Voter law with Evening Edition Host Peggy Pico.

Will California's New Motor Voter Law Boost Turnout?


Brian Adams, professor of political science, San Diego State University

Chris Wilson, associate director, Alliance San Diego


California's new Motor Voter Act is expected to boost the rolls of registered voters.

The law will automatically register citizens to vote when they obtain or renew their driver's license at the Department of Motor Vehicles. It goes into effect next year.

State election officials estimate about 6.6 million California citizens are eligible but not registered to vote. In San Diego County, nearly 600,000 eligible voters are not registered, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

But even advocates concede that being registered to vote doesn't automatically turn someone into a voter. Just 42 percent of registered voters in California turned out for the November 2014 general election, a record low.

“People who aren’t voting don’t have that political interest,” Brian Adams, political science professor at San Diego State University, told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday.

Adams said he doesn’t believe a law like this will have a big impact in a state where it’s easy to register and easy to vote. However, he does believe it might get more younger voters to the poll.

“This is one group where this law may actually make a difference because young people tend to move around a little bit more,” Adams said. “Their registration will automatically be updated now when they move.”

Chris Wilson, director of civic engagement for Alliance San Diego, said the law will help organizations like his reach out to uninformed voters. The group advocates for social justice and works to get people to vote.

“We find that people want to engage, but they don’t know how,” Wilson said. “Having more people in the voter database allows us to contact more people and give them the information.”

More voters are likely to go to the polls if they have information, Wilson said.

“People don’t want to feel less than intelligent,” Wilson said. “They don’t want to be reminded that they are less informed than other people. (The Motor Voter Act) gives us a mechanism to increase voter turnout.”

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