California has recently enacted new voter registration laws that involve the DMV. These changes were made to streamline the process. However, some of the changes can be confusing without a little bit of explanation. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to understand the new laws.

The DMV Process

The first step is going to the DMV and obtaining a new license or renewing an old one or even getting a state identification card. If a person has some points on their record and would like to get rid of them, they can complete a California Traffic School course and get some of them taken off. This should speed up time at the DMV. The DMV will ask for the standard information, including addresses, date of birth, etc. Then they will ask the person if they would like to affirm their eligibility to vote. At that point the person can either opt in or opt out of registering to vote. If the person does not decline registration and wants to be a voter, that information is then sent from the DMV office to the secretary of state’s office to have their citizenship verified and to be added to the rolls to vote.

What a voter should do next?

For now, nothing. Even though the law is supposed to go in effect on New Year’s Day 2016, the DMV has released a statement that it won’t be sending the information to the Secretary of State until some goals are met. Specifically, they want to make sure regulations and funding are in place before beginning any type of process. Also, they want to have a completed database system in place. Finally, some procedural issues need to be ironed out by a joint process between the DMV and the Secretary of State, including how the question about “opting out” will be asked and how often the DMV will have to send its data to the Secretary of State.

Fortunately the voter registration database for the State of California, also known as Vote-Cal, should be ready to go around June 2016 according to the Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Funding should not be an issue, as the DMV has already been assigned some cash in the new budget for a technology upgrade and if there is any extra costs the bill should give leeway for the governor to assign more funds as necessary.

The hope is that all of this will be ready by the 2018 election cycle.

So going to the DMV will allow ANYONE to register to vote in California?

No. For instance, if a person is a convicted felon and has not gotten their voting rights restored, they will not be eligible to vote no matter what they say at the DMV. There will be protocols in place to prevent them from registering. Another example is illegal immigrants who have been granted a license to drive. They are also not eligible to vote and have a completely separate procedure for signing up for a driver’s license.

So going to the DMV makes a person automatically a registered voter?

No. The opting out process means that no one who is eligible to vote that doesn’t want to vote has to register.

This could cause lines to get even worse in an already crowded California DMV system

Possibly. The California DMV system has a notorious reputation for excruciatingly long waits for even the simplest procedures like renewing a license. The hope is that the technology upgrade that is coming to the system will stream line the process and make it easier for people to get in and out.

People should do whatever they can on their own to make the process easy on themselves. They should make sure their address information is accurate, that they have all the documents they need and that they have taken care of any points problems at a California traffic school as quickly as possible to make the DMV a lot less painful.