For the past decade, Los Angeles has been plagued with upsetting records of low voter turnout. When citizens fail to exercise their right to play a role in the electoral process, they forfeit their ability to criticize the process’s main working components. It’s been years, however, since California policymakers have truly taken a bipartisan initiative on increasing voter turnout. But the prospects of low turnout might change with the passage of AB 1461, the new Motor Voter Act, recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that allows Californians who sign up for driver’s licenses to have the option to be automatically registered to vote.
California will be the second state to opt into the automatic voter registration program. Because the program works in conjunction with Californians who obtain their driver’s license at the DMV, this could open the possibility for undocumented immigrants to partake in the voting process. Since undocumented immigrants have been allowed to obtain driver’s licenses since January, the new bill creates an open window for them to be automatically registered to vote and thus, to partake in the voting process. According to the NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation, “they could be automatically registered to vote if the Secretary of State’s office fails to verify their eligibility accurately.”
The law’s goal is seemingly simple: Increase voter turnout without any sort of partisan ambition. But don’t be fooled. This very much hinges on policy initiatives led by the Democratic party.
A recent survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute revealed that 43 percent of the unregistered voters lean toward the Democratic Party. But whether or not these voters lean toward the Democratic party, and the fact that the bill was signed into law by a Democratic governor, is the not the issue at hand. This bill might change the course of our democratic process by allowing undocumented immigrants to partake in the policies that shape our great state.
Historically, voting rights have always been afforded to citizens. If we offer the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to take part in our voting system, the question then becomes to what measure can we still define citizens. The line between the rights afforded to citizens and undocumented immigrants has already been established — if we open the voting process to citizens of other countries, we will feel the impact of political influence and possibly a soar in political corruption.
Californians can smell inauthenticity. In order to increase voter turnout, politicians across party lines must work together for a nonpartisan initiative toward voter registration.
The presidential election — arguably one of the most important political elections — received considerably low voter turnout in California during the 2012 election. Only 49.8 percent of registered L.A. County residents voted in contrast to a whopping 76.8 percent during the 2008 election, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office. The pattern of low voter turnout in California has only gotten worse. Though the Motor Voter Act will produce larger numbers of registered voters, the act does not encourage constituents to turn out to vote and remain active in local, state, and nationwide politics. Secretary of State Alex Padilla recently took note of the limiting provision of the Motor Voter Act. Though Padilla supports its efforts, he explained that voting must become mandatory for all citizens. This, however, should be limited to citizens of the state.
“Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote,” Padilla said in a statement to reporters. “We do not have to opt in to other rights, such as free speech or due process.”
But Mr. Padilla, along with other proponents of the bill, fail to recognize that the specific formulations listed in the bill lack the necessary measures against safeguarding voting rights to citizens. Combining a very real issue in our state with the intent of accomplishing a partisan issue is the very reason why our state is suffering such low numbers of voter turnout.
Sarah Dhanaphatana is a junior majoring in political science. She is also deputy features editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Dhanapolitics,” runs Fridays.