Voting Rights Groups Sue California for Voter Suppression

Release Date: 
May 9, 2017

Legal Action taken due to State’s Failure to Comply with "Motor Voter" Law

SACRAMENTO, CA —Voting rights groups filed a federal lawsuit today against California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for its failure to offer federally mandated voter registration opportunities to millions of Californians.

The lawsuit—filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of California, ACCE Institute, California Common Cause, and the National Council of La Raza—seeks to force California DMV to comply with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), commonly known as "Motor Voter." The NVRA requires states to incorporate voter registration into DMV forms. That way, customers can register to vote or update their voter registration when they apply for or renew a driver’s license or state identification card, or submit a change of address. California DMV, however, has been unlawfully requiring the million-plus Californians who renew by mail every year to complete a separate voter registration.

“The goal of the NVRA was to make voter registration easier and more seamless by integrating the information already collected by the DMV to get people registered,” said Kathay Feng, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “It’s an embarrassment that in 2017, more than 20 years after the law was enacted, California DMV is still violating the law by making millions of people jump through hoops to become voters.”

Plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Northern California, Demos, Project Vote, and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster. The plaintiff’s attorneys first notified California DMV of widespread violations of the NVRA in February 2015. In January 2016, to avoid a lawsuit, California DMV incorporated voter registration into its in-person and online transactions and stopped requiring people to fill out a separate card. DMV refused, however, to commit to incorporating voter registration into its mail renewal process.

“It is simply unacceptable for the DMV to deny seamless voter registration to millions of Californians who renew their licenses by mail,” said Helen Hutchison, President of the League of Women Voters of California. “While we appreciate the work the DMV did to create an integrated voter registration process for people who go to their offices or renew their licenses and IDs online, others should be given the same opportunity.”

Delia de la Vara, senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), expressed concerns about the impact on Latino voters. “There are still more than 5.5 million eligible but unregistered California voters, and Latinos are disproportionately represented in that group,” she said. “That’s why NCLR is committed to seeing DMV do everything required by law to ensure these antiquated barriers to registration are eliminated.”

"Since we first alerted DMV to these problems, multiple local, state, and federal elections have passed, including the 2016 presidential election,” said ACCE Executive Director Christina Livingston. “Enough is enough. It’s time for California to make registration easier for every voter as the law requires and to get it done before another election passes us by.”

“California has lagged behind other states in registering voters through the DMV,” added Jeremiah Levine, an attorney at Morrison & Foerster. “That’s because California doesn’t comply with this important federal law. Our clients believe it’s time that California caught up.”

Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, said: “The freedom to vote is the most critical component of our nation’s democracy and difficulty registering is one of the greatest barriers to exercising that freedom. The DMV’s failure to comply with Motor Voter has deprived millions of eligible California residents of one of the most accessible and popular ways of registering to vote. It’s time for the DMV’s foot-dragging to end.”