LOS ANGELES — The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has taken the necessary first steps toward improving voter registration services offered online and at its 174 field offices across the state. Until now, if someone wanted to register to vote through the DMV, they had to fill out a separate voter registration card. Under a new automated system, the basic voter registration questions are integrated into the DMV’s forms to apply for a driver’s license or identification card — however, especially for Limited English Proficient (LEP) voters, other important questions must be answered in a second, optional step.
More specifically, beginning this month, people who are eligible and affirmatively choose to register when applying for or renewing a driver’s license or identification card at a DMV field office will have their voter registration information sent electronically to the California Secretary of State. Voters may provide additional information, such as language and vote-by-mail preference, at a second, optional step.
Voter registration services will be offered in English and nine other languages (Chinese, Hindi, Khmer, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese). Those renewing their license or identification card online will be able to register to vote or update their voter registration through an integrated link to the California Online Voter Registration system.
While the automated system is an important step forward, one part of the new process could cause problems, especially for limited English proficient voters. In order to sign up for translated election materials and political party affiliation or to become a permanent vote-by-mail voter, the prospective registrant will need to complete follow-up questions on a touchscreen device, which is often located in a separate room at the DMV.
“It is exciting that people can apply to vote by simply checking a few boxes on the DMV form when they are renewing or applying for licenses and ID cards,” said Deanna Kitamura, Voting Rights Project Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles. “However, we are concerned the two-step process could lead to thousands of limited English proficient voters not receiving translated sample ballots, given that about a third of people are leaving the DMV field offices without completing the optional portion of the registration process. We encourage everyone to complete the two-step process so that records will reflect the preferences of each voter.”