SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California’s practice of making applicants fill out separate forms to renew their driver’s licenses and register to vote violates federal law and has depressed voter registration, the League of Women Voters claims in a federal lawsuit.
The state chapter of the League of Women Voters and three other groups sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Secretary of Transportation Brian Kelly and former Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Tuesday.
The groups claim that though the state has improved its process for allowing applicants to get driver’s licenses and register to vote online and in person, it has failed to make the change for those who renew their licenses by mail, and that this violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
The state ranks “a dismal 46th in the nation” in its rate of registered voters, and more than 5.5 million eligible California voters remained unregistered as of February 2017, according to data cited in the complaint.
“Each month, DMV continues to send thousands more license-holders renewal-by-mail notices that impose the same unnecessary burden,” the groups say in the 14-page complaint.
The co-plaintiffs are California Common Cause, the National Council of La Raza, and the ACCE Institute, the 501(c)3 arm of the nonprofit Californians for Community Empowerment.
The California DMV denied the allegations, saying it has complied with the National Voter Registration Act for decades.
“Today’s lawsuit serves as an unfortunate distraction from ongoing joint efforts by the Secretary of State’s office and DMV to further improve the voter registration process in California, which already exceeds the voter registration obligations set forth in the National Voter Registration Act,” DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said in a statement.
The plaintiffs say they have been working with the state for two years to ensure that in-person and online driver’s license applications comply with the law, but that the DMV has “consistently refused” to provide integrated voter and license applications to those renewing their licenses by mail.
More than 1 million Californians renew their driver’s licenses by mail each year, according to DMV data cited in the complaint.
“Eligible voters in these circumstances must fill out a completely separate form if they want to register to vote or stay registered to vote,” the complaint states. “The duplicative form asks applicants to again provide information that they have already given to the DMV including the applicant’s name, driver’s license number, Social Security Number, date of birth, and address.”
Gonzalez said the secretary of state and DMV worked together last year to modernize the voter registration process offered online and at 174 DMV offices across the state, “to provide a faster and more secure voter registration process.”
The two agencies are working with state lawmakers on AB 1461, which would establish the California New Motor Voter Program. The bill would require the DMV to send records for each voter-eligible driver’s license applicant to the Secretary of State.
Despite that proposed legislation, the plaintiffs say the DMV remains out of compliance with federal law. They seek an injunction requiring the DMV make integrated applications available to those renewing their licenses by mail and to report on its progress under the supervision of a court-appointed monitor.
The groups are represented by Michael Jacobs with Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.