California’s new “motor voter” law has now taken effect, even if it’s not yet in massive use, and so far the sky has not fallen.
That was the prediction from many Republicans the moment Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new measure into law last fall, with many GOP activists predicting it would lead to “state sanctioned voter fraud” and flood the voting rolls with non-citizens.
But it has not happened yet, and probably never will.
That’s because the same rules that prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving the same type of California drivers license as citizens or legal residents will apply to everyone automatically registered to vote during visits to Department of Motor Vehicles offices.
The new law registers every eligible Californian who goes to the DMV to get a drivers license or renew one. Once Secretary of State Alex Padilla has set up specific procedure to be followed in all offices, every eligible person who doesn’t opt out will be registered. The opt-out option will be offered to everyone qualified to vote.
The fears of many Republicans stem from the fact that many new drivers license applicants today are Latinos and their participation rate in the last few elections has hovered just above 15 percent, the lowest for any ethnic group. Asian-Americans are next lowest.
The GOP knows that Latinos who do vote have long gone mostly Democratic, one reason some Republicans give for opposing a path to citizenship for the undocumented. The subtext of that opposition is simple: Make citizenship available to undocumented Hispanic immigrants and then make voting easy for them and the existing huge Democratic voter registration pluralities in California and elsewhere will become even more pronounced.
This is one reason Republicans in many other states have made voter registration and voting itself more difficult for everyone, requiring some kind of official photo identification before even registered voters can get a ballot to fill out.
California’s new law also requires photo ID, something GOP critics of the new law – passed without Republican support in the Legislature – ignore.
A quick visit to the DMV’s website (https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/?1dmy&urile=wcm:path:/dmv_content_en/dmv/dl/dl_info#two500) reveals that besides passing written and road tests, recipients of new legal-resident drivers licenses must show a Social Security card and prove their “legal presence” in California and the nation.
That proof can be a birth certificate, a passport, an immigration green card or even Border Patrol crossing cards and Mexican consular IDs. Only those whose identification proves they are eligible to vote will automatically be registered.
That’s why Padilla could confidently say after Brown signed the new law that “We’ve built the protocols and the firewalls to not register people that aren’t eligible. We’re going to keep those firewalls in place.” In fact, they’ve been up for years.
But the Tea Party and other conservative organizations that oppose making voting easier for eligible citizens ignore all this.
“The law…will guarantee that non-citizens will participate in all California elections going forward,” Linda Paine, president of the Election Integrity Project of California, told a reporter. The new law, her website added, “facilitates noncitizens to register and vote with prosecutorial immunity and will break down the integrity of California’s election process to the point that it cannot be repaired.”
But the DMV rules make it easy for any clerk to tell who’s an eligible voter, and Padilla promises the procedure he’s still setting up will ensure even more security.
Registering to vote has always required showing some of the same documentation needed for a drivers license. Forged versions of those documents are no easier or harder to obtain now than before. Which means that voter fraud – a negligible phenomenon in California up to now – figures to remain at about the same very low levels as ever.
And yet, conservative Republicans who have long asserted – with no proof – that the undocumented vote in large numbers, insist there will be much more fraud. “This assures corruption of our elections,” Stephen Frank, former president of the California Republican Assembly, wrote on his blog. “Our elections will look like those of Mexico and other corrupt nations and honest people will stop voting since illegal aliens will outvote them.”
In other words, Frank and other conservatives insist the sky is falling – but a quick look outside demonstrates that’s just not so.