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Will California's New Motor Voter Law Boost Turnout?

Will California's New Motor Voter Law Boost Turnout?
Will California's New Motor Voter Law Boost Turnout?
Will California's New Motor Voter Law Boost Turnout? GUESTS: Brian Adams, professor of political science, San Diego State University Chris Wilson, associate director, Alliance San Diego

Our top story on midday edition California has a brand-new lot that is expected to Bruce told -- roles of registered voters. Big even advocates of the new motor voter act can see that being registered for vote doesn't turn someone into a voter. Only 42% of registered voters turned out for the election last November so what changes will this new law make. And why don't more pesto? Joining me is Chris Wilson and he's director of civic engagement for alliance San Diego. Chris welcome to the show. Thank you Maureen it's always nice to be here. Ryan Adams also joined us and he's professor of political science at the San Diego State University. Brand welcome back. Should be here. So Chris alliance San Diego is a community organization with a lot of experience in holding voter registration campaigns. Why haven't people just been signing up to vote? Why did we need this the first place? I think people become disillusioned with our system. People don't believe in some of the candidates and so they become unmotivated so to speak. We, else want to say we don't just focus on registration but voter turnout. And in doing voter turnout we think this is a good loft because it gives us access to more people who can have a say in what our government looks like and some of the policies. People who don't register maybe don't know they have to register? We don't know they have to register if they change addresses? Basically, people who are unaware of how the process works? Right I think that is part of it. People are foggy because we don't have civics classics anymore -- civics classes anymore and people have lost how to participate in the government and the basic way to do that is to vote. So this new motor voter law makes registration automatic in a wide variety of cases can you tell us Chris how it works? C go to DMV to get a new license or renew your license or get a new ID or change your address your information is eligible will be forwarded to the Secretary of State who then registers you to vote. The Mac you say if eligible and there were some concern that people illegally who can now get driver's licenses would also be registered to vote, what will prevent that from happening? The people who are being registered have to make a declaration that they are US citizen. And that's important because making a collect -- declaration of the US citizen when you're not disqualifies you from becoming one in the future.? I see and is there any other safeguard besides someone just self reporting? I think the safeguards that are normally there for registrars are also their first record Terry of state levels of people proving their birthplace or the residence is still in place and should be used at the state level to register for deaf people to vote before they accept that the DMV has done its job and forth dashboard that information to them. If you renew your license and already registered to vote will you be contacted about this in any way? Or will this be seamless? The way it's supposed to work if it it's only if you change your address. It should be seamless for most people who are already registered to vote. When does this going to affect? Bloggers into effect in January that they don't think the system will be ready to handle the number of voters or number of people registered so Secretary of State is making improvements to the voter database system and they don't expect that to be done until December 2016. It says to me that 6.6 million Californians are eligible to vote but are not registered. Do know what the numbers are here in San Diego County? I don't know specifically what the numbers are here in San Diego County. I think following this over the last five or six years we've seen that somewhere near 60% of people who were eligible to register. I think the number in the county is somewhere around 600,000. Sounds about right. 600,000 people. Ryan in general do these types of laws, automatic registering laws have a big impact on voter turnout? Generally they don't. Especially in a state like California where it's relatively easy to register. And to vote. Some other states put up larger barriers to registration or where a law would like this would make a bigger difference enlarging when people are voting they don't have that interest. And generally the people who are not registered have virtually no political interest in don't call politics. Even if there register to vote they are unlikely to turnout. Historically Brian who votes and who doesn't? If you think about the difference between voters and non-voters largely better educated, older, wealthy, people who generally have interest in politics are more likely to vote. And when you look at particularly in 2014 when voter turnout went down significantly from 2012, the people who dropout tend to be those who are less educated, less interest in politics. So you have a lot of people for example who will vote in presidential elections and typically presidential voter turnout is much higher than local elections in those people vote in a presidential election but not in state or local elections. I was preparing for the segment in reading and apparently voter registration numbers are pretty low when it comes to young people about 18 to 24? Is that typical? That is fairly typical Mets the one group where a law like this might actually make -- law like this might make a difference. For many young people the reason they aren't registered is they change their address or the registered but their addresses change. So in that group this law may have an impact in increasing their turnout because the registration will automatically be updated when they move. When it comes to the difference between voter turnout and let's say in 2012 election in a presidential election and in 2014 election were causes the change in the number of people who show up? Is it certain issues, candidates? It's a lot of it is presidential elections are very symbolic and represent a lot for people and American democracy, they represent the way our system works and people have a strong attachment to various individual candidates and so forth. I think when it comes to govern territorial elections that you don't see that and a lot of voters vote not vote because they are trying to influence public policy or care about issues but because they are voting as an expression of support for the American political system or an expression of patriotism. And you get a lot more of that in the presidential election than you would in a government election from --. Christie made the point about civics not being taught much in schools anymore and you have this book of new voters from 18 to 24 that don't release team to be too politically engaged. Do find that your outreach or do you find that people want to get engaged but just don't know how? We find both. We find people want to get engaged but don't know how enough for community organizations and campaigns can play a role. Having more people in the voter database allows us to contact more people and give them the information that keeps them from voting. They also, specifically talk about younger people, they are excited when they turn 18 because now they can do a few more things that make them more adult right? And after that 18-year-old excitement their excitement tends to drop off between 19 and 26. Because they are not being contacted anymore, they're not engaged in a process that is giving the more information outside of elections. Just to add to that there has been a lot of return -- research that get out and vote trustee make a difference. And indirectly it could help by increasing the number of people that are actually contacted but one of the best ways to get people interested in an election and get them to actually vote is have candidates and parties and other groups actually contacting them letting them know that an election is going on. My guess is there's a lot of Californians last November didn't even know there was an election and certainly not KPBS listeners because they know. Others that don't follow the news that closely and get out and vote drives are good for informing voters and gain them interested. There are also ethnic populations were historically the voter turnout is low. I'm thinking in California the Latino population and sometime the African-American population, wife does that continue? If you control for income and education it's not much lower. If you look at middle-class blacks in some elections you have higher turnout than middle-class whites. And a lot of that isn't about race or ethnicity that it's about income and education. That's what we always hear so that's misinformation? If I can jump in, I think it's more than income in education but it's also information where people get their information from determines how much they know and where they are willing to participate. What we have seen is when we give people regardless of their education or income could level, when we give them the income -- information and give them a background in foundation of why voting is important matters and they do turnout. And they start to turnout more regularly with the more information that they have. And just to add to that educated voters are more likely to seek out that information on their own and that's one of the reasons are more likely to vote even if they are not contacted when for a get out to vote drive but for less at gated voters they need to contact and information to be provided to them because there education acts as a barrier to them for seeking out information. Wasn't a major campaign against this new motor voter law but people were against it. They said it was a Democratic maneuver. And most of the people are not registered would probably go out and vote for a Democrat. Is there any truth to that brand? It is certainly true that when voter turnout declines Democrats get her more than Republicans. And especially among young people who tend to vote warm democratic and then various other groups. And I don't want to impugn any motives to the back of this particular piece of registration but it is certainly the case that if Democrats have a lot more to lose when voter turnout goes down. And Chris. I want to add to that that our government is of the people for the people and by the people and alike this allows more voices to be heard in elections and in policymaking. And anyone who is patriotic or believes in art democratic principles of everybody having a vote should be for this law. This a new motor voter register eligible people who get drivers license or ID's. Not everybody has a drivers license and not ever buy has an ID. Most democratic countries automatically register their eligible voters. Candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed that all US citizens automatically get registered when they turn 18 kind of like the old military draft. What do you think about Brian? Administratively that would be really hard because elections are run by state governments and local governments not by the federal government. In fact it's really questionable constitutionally if the federal government could mandate states to do that. The federal government could potentially provide grants to states to encourage them to do that and that may actually be a very good idea is for the federal government to provide some funding to implement such programs that it would have to be done on a state level at a local level. So to have a nationwide system I don't see that happening anytime soon. Because Chris all of our voting laws or most of them are state-by-state. Some of them are implementation wise County by County. And everything Brian says is true and yet we know that the federal government has stepped in and cases concerning voting when there have spent wild scale -- widescale efforts to deny the vote to large groups of people. I think the federal government does have some leeway in mandating access to voting in a way that does not impose a difficulty on the state's. Some countries have compulsory voting. I'm thinking of Australia. And in theory Mexico, what you think about Brian? Even countries that have compulsory voting don't get 100% voter turnout. And generally countries where works well were compulsory voting works well for those countries where most people are going to vote anyway. I just don't see the United States context where a law like that could actually really be very effective. It would be a higher cost than the benefit. Chris fundamentally? --, Is it people feel like they have a stake in the political process that determines whether they vote or not? I think that's one of the fundamentals of people voting or not voting. I think there are many reasons people don't vote. That being one. Another large reason people don't vote is again I go back to having the information. People don't want to feel less than intelligent when compared to other people. Stepping into a voting booth with no information is a very humbling experience to be polite. And so people don't want the experience in their daily lives and they don't want to be reminded that they are less informed than other people. So it's a barrier to vote. And I think the slot again gives us organizations who do voter outreach a mechanism to increase the turnout. And I think we had a history in San Diego doing that. I think we will see a larger turnout going forward. How does your organization work to inform voters and make it more comfortable for them to feel informed and to therefore vote? We call it integrated voter engagement are not just going to voters during elections but we go three or four times a year and talking about them to issues and upcoming elections and the things that matter in their lives and in their communities and in that way we are were building a relationship that we can go back to win an election does come around and inform them that hate and election is coming up in June and we need you to turn out to vote so this community's voice can be heard. And Brian what are other strategies that might help motivate voters? Is it just get older? I agree completely with that. To provide information to voters and it doesn't matter especially in low information on local and state level campaigns. There's widespread cynicism among voters and approval ratings of government in general are very very low. Part of it is just for the government to take actions that would develop voter trust. But a big factor here is people vote when they are asked to vote and one other people are talking about politics and fostering those kinds of connections can make a difference. I want to thank you both, Chris was in with the land San Diego and Brian Adams at the professor at Sandy go State University. Thank you very much.

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.”