By Shelby Sebens
(Reuters) - A top California official is calling on lawmakers to pass a so-called motor-voter law mirroring one recently approved in Oregon, which would automatically register people to vote when they obtain or renew driver's licenses.
Alex Padilla, a former lawmaker who was recently elected secretary of state, said on Thursday that such a move would enroll more voters at a time when California election turnouts have been woefully small.
“This can go a long way toward addressing the first half of that battle,” said Padilla, a Democrat who represented part of Los Angeles in the state Senate. “So much the better for democracy.”
He said he would work with Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego to develop a bill and put it before the legislature.
Oregon’s new law, which passed this month without support from Republicans in the legislature, will use state Department of Motor Vehicles data to automatically register eligible voters, with a 21-day opt-out period for those who wish to be taken off the registry.
Opponents had worried about risks to Oregonians' privacy.
Padilla said the two biggest hurdles for voter turnout in California last year were registering voters and getting them to the polls. A new motor-voter law could add millions of people to the ranks of registered voters in the most populous U.S. state, he said.
California has nearly 7 million eligible but unregistered voters, according to the state’s elections office.
Current California law requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to hand out National Voter Registration Act forms and a voter registration card when people apply for a driver's license or ID card, giving them the option to register to vote. The DMV also includes voter registration information with every mailed license renewal.
(Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Eric Beech)