California Vows to Probe Motor-Voter Troubles

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The state of California will investigate and disclose how many voters could not cast ballots in the 2018 election due to problems with its motor voter program and whether the missing votes could have changed the outcome of any races under the terms of a settlement approved Tuesday.

It is the second settlement in just over a year to resolve claims that the state burdened would-be voters by making them fill out duplicate forms to obtain driver’s licenses and register to vote in violation of the National Voting Rights Act of 1993.

Last year, the state agreed to roll out its new motor voter program, which automatically registers driver’s license applicants to vote unless they opt out, as part of a prior settlement with the League of Women Voters and other groups that sued the state in 2017.

But in December last year, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla revealed at least 589 people could not vote in the election due to the delays in transmitting voter information from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to his office.

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler approved a new settlement that requires the state to provide monthly updates on its investigation of affected voters and election outcomes.

Under the terms of that agreement, the state will also appoint a management-level voting rights coordinator, investigate causes behind the delayed voter ID transmissions, create a detailed corrective plan and roll out new required trainings for DMV employees. Additionally, the state vowed to send letters to all affected voters and tell them how to verify that they are now registered to vote.

Melissa Breach, executive director of the League of Women Voters of California, said in a statement that the agreement “establishes concrete steps” for the state to investigate and improve its DMV voter registration system.

“We look forward to working with DMV and Secretary Padilla to ensure that California fulfills its legal obligation to provide Californians accessible and effective voter registration services at the DMV,” Breach said.

According to Padilla’s office, an initial review found that no state or local election outcomes were changed due to the delayed transmission of voter information. 

Former California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto stepped down in December after Padilla wrote a scathing letter to the governor’s office stating that he had lost confidence in the DMV’s leadership.

“I am committed to working with new leadership at DMV and the new [governor’s] administration to ensure the integrity of the Motor Voter program,” Padilla said in an emailed statement. “This settlement continues to move those efforts forward.”

According to a Sacramento Bee investigation published last week, top election officials urged Padilla last year to postpone rolling out the motor voter program, citing a lack of adequate testing and development for the new system. The DMV acknowledged that more than 100,000 registration errors have occurred since the program was launched in April 2018.

A DMV spokeswoman said the agency is working to correct problems that plagued its voter registration program last year.

“We continue to actively work with our stakeholders to ensure full transparency for the California motor voter program,” DMV spokeswoman Melissa Figueroa said via email. “As an agency, we are committed to getting this right.”

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