Golden State Settles Suit Over Motor-Voter Rules

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Starting this April, the more than 1 million Californians who renew their driver’s licenses by mail each year will be able to register to vote using one form under the terms of a new settlement agreement.

The settlement reached Jan. 10 ends eight months of litigation over California’s alleged violations of the National Voting Rights Act of 1993.

The League of Women Voters and three other groups sued the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and Secretary of State’s Office in May 2017, claiming the state burdens would-be voters by making them fill out the same information on two separate forms to register to vote.

“We are very pleased that Californians will have easier access to voter registration,” said Jeremiah Levine, an attorney with Morrison Foerster who represented the voting rights groups. “We are especially satisfied that changes will be made before California’s statewide and federal primary elections.”

The state agreed to roll out a new program that will automatically register driver’s license applicants to vote unless they opt out. The program is part of AB 1461, dubbed the California New Motor Voter Act. Signed into law in October 2015, the new statute requires the DMV to forward records for all eligible applicants to the Secretary of State’s Office for registration unless those applicants elect not to register to vote.

“The League of Woman Voters of California lawsuit was settled last week in which the department agreed to continue implementing AB 1461 (The California New Motor Voter Program) according to our current schedule,” DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said in an email.

According to the lawsuit filed last May, California ranks “a dismal 46th in the nation” in its rate of registered voters. More than 5.5 million eligible voters were unregistered as of February 2017, according to state data.

In August 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler refused to dismiss the suit, finding the National Voting Rights Act forbids making driver’s license applicants fill out duplicate information to register to vote.

A representative for the League of Women Voters California did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the ACCE Institute, California Common Cause, and National Council of La Raza.


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