On Friday California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will automatically register elegible residents to vote. Starting in 2016, anyone who gets or renews a driver’s license or state identification card will also be registered to vote unless they specifically refuse.
The bill comes after only 42 percent of California voters turned up at the polls last year. Of California’s 39 million residents, 6.6 million are eligible to vote but have not registered.
In addition to encouraging people to consider voting, Brown’s move is an attempt to keep politics and prejudice out of the registration process. So of course some people hate it. Republicans voted against the bill in large numbers, saying it could lead to a situation in which undocumented immigrants are mistakenly registered to vote when they get their licenses. (In fact such licenses are already clearly marked “Federal Limits Apply,” indicating that the owner is not allowed to vote.)
The editorial staff of the Orange County Register, editoralizing/hallucinating on paper, argued, “Voting laws ought not to be focused on maximizing turnout among the most apathetic segments of the electorate.” Pushing for the political version of “a smaller, purer church,” the Register went on to say that “we are no longer living” in an era when discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion or income affects one’s ability to participate in the political process." (Apparently they don’t receive word in some parts of Orange County about the current attempts to prevent people from voting.)
“So while we celebrate the widespread expansion of the franchise,” they finished (attention: voting is now a “franchise”), “we ought to avoid cheapening it to the point where it is regarded as little more than a vehicle for self-expression. When you step into a voting booth, you hold the lives and livelihoods of your fellow citizens in your hands. If you can’t be bothered to register, perhaps you’re not ready for that responsibility.”
I’m told early editions of the article ended, “Love from 1947, Your Father.”
Brown has long been an advocate for automatic registration, calling for it as early as 1992 at the Democratic Convention. In June Hillary Clinton likewise called on all states to automatically enroll all citizens when they turn 18, and Bernie Sanders has introduced a similar bill in Congress. Oregon has already passed its own bill, and 15 other states plus the District of Columbia have legislation in motion. Indeed, New Jersey is just waiting for Chris Christie to sign a bill of its own.
Of course, none of this means anything if no one shows up to the polls. Which is either incentive for politicians to speak to issues that actually matter to people’s lives, or for political parties to pick the most terrifying possible candidates to represent them.
Thus far, mission accomplished.