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DMV Becomes State's Leading Voter Registration Source

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March 30, 2023 -- A statewide automatic registration program implemented five years ago has quickly turned the DMV into the most commonly used vehicle for registering voters in California, according to a report released Thursday.

The report by the USC Center for Inclusive Democracy found that more than 43 percent of new registrants and more than 58 percent of re-registrants have used the California New Motor Voter (CNMV) program since it was implemented in spring 2018.

That compares with slightly less than 40 percent of new registrants and 25 percent of re-registrants who registered to vote online, according to the report. Less than 17 percent of both groups used other methods of registration.

Automatic voter registration at the DMV is now the top registration method for Asian-American, Black, and Latino registrants who are registering to vote for the first time.

After CNMV was implemented, the share using the DMV for voter registration in each of the three groups "exploded" -- from less than 1 percent to more than a quarter for Blacks and Latinos and almost a third for Asian Americans.

CNMV automatically registers "eligible Californians to vote when they complete driver’s license, identification card, or change of address transactions online, by mail, or in person," according to the report.

"Through CNMV, applicants at the DMV must answer the voter registration questions to complete their transaction and may choose to decline to register at the point of service."

Still, those who have automatically registered at the DMV have "voted at notably lower rates than those who chose to register online."

"In the 2020 general election, fewer than 69 percent of new DMV registrants cast a ballot, compared to upwards of 85 percent of new online registrants," the report found.

The registered voter turnout gap "is notably high among registrants of color and young registrants aged 18 to 24," according to the report.

Automatic voter registration at the DMV and registering online have eaily surpassed more traditional forms of registration over the past five years.

Before the CNMV program was implemented, 69.3 percent of registrants used forms of registration other than online, which was used by 17.5 percent, and DMV registration, used by 13.1 percent.

After the program was implemented, DMV was used by 58.7 percent of re-registrants and 43.5 percent of new registrants, while online registration was used by 24.8 percent of re-registrants and 39.6 percent of new registrants.

Other forms of registration were used by 16.9 percent of new registrants and 16.5 percent of re-registrants, according to the report

"Among new DMV registrants and DMV re-registrants, the registered voter turnout gap narrowed across all racial and ethnic groups since CNMV implementation," the report found.

"When looking at all registrants regardless of registration method, however, the registered voter turnout gap has widened for Latinos."

While CNMV has broadened access to voter registration in California, "there is still a significant need for sustained and effective voter outreach and engagement efforts, especially for groups historically underrepresented at the ballot box," the report concluded.

"Voter registration is an important first step, but it does not automatically lead to the act of voting."

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