by Chris Reed
One of Gavin Newsom’s first acts after taking office as governor in January was to create a “DMV Reinvention Strike Team” to improve the performance of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
This came after one of the worst years a state agency has had in recent history. In August 2018, CalWatchdog and many other news outlets reported that wait times were nearly 50 percent longer at DMV offices than the previous summer. The problem was blamed on a heavy increase in visits caused by the federal 2005 Real ID Act. It requires Californians to have either passports or new federal ID cards before they can take commercial flights starting in October 2020. The DMV is the agency that issues the Real IDs.
A month later, another scandal emerged, with thousands of thousands of voters reporting errors in their political party affiliation due to mistakes made in the DMV’s new “motor voter” automatic registration program, which began in April 2018. An audit released in August of this year found the problem was far worse than initially believed, with more than a quarter-million errors in registration in the first five months of the program – 83,684 duplicate voter registrations and 171,145 DMV records with inconsistencies on party membership.
Newsom’s “strike team” issued its report in July on what it had done to fix the agency and said internal data showed a reduction in wait teams of 58 minutes over the previous summer. Two weeks ago, the DMV issued a statement saying that wait times had continued to decline and averaged 38 minutes in September.
But now the DMV’s other 2018 problem has re-emerged with reports in Northern California of pervasive errors in motor voter registrations, prompting Republican lawmakers to renew their call to put the program on hold until its flaws are comprehensively fixed.
At least 600 complaints so far; number could soar
“At least 600 Californians, including lifelong Republicans and Democrats, have had their voter registration unexpectedly changed, and several county elections officials are pinning much of the blame on the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles,” the Sacramento Bee reported. The daughter of California Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, who had recently used a Sacramento County DMV office, was among those affected. Grove is a leading critic of motor voter.
Sacramento CBS 13’s news team reported at least 300 apparent complaints in Santa Clara County, nearly 200 in Sacramento County and at least 100 in Shasta County.
Reports noted that it’s possible that some of the mistakes were made by voters themselves not used to election services at DMV and that some voters may have misremembered what party status they had chosen previously. But as CBS 13 reported, problems appeared to be turning up in every county as soon as registrars began sending out voter notifications related to the March primary. With El Dorado County sending out notifications last Friday and dozens of counties doing so in coming weeks, the dimensions of the problem could be far bigger than initially assumed – just like last year.
Oregon, which introduced its version of motor voter in January 2016, has had far fewer problems.