Just How Big Of A Deal Is The DMV Voter Registration Screw-Up?

Automatic voter registration has recorded 1.4 million new, updated and confirmed registrations through the DMV since April, but the department has acknowledged mishandling 23,000 cases. (Stock photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Ryan Fonseca and Lori Galarreta

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is facing new scrutiny this week after announcing it mishandled roughly 23,000 voter registrations, in some cases adding voters to the wrong party.

Human error is to blame, according to The Sacramento Bee, which reported that DMV workers mixed up registration information while toggling between multiple screens. The erroneous data was then sent to Secretary of State Alex Padilla's office. Padilla released a statement this week, saying he was "extremely disappointed and deeply frustrated" by the mishap.

"The DMV has assured us that they have taken necessary actions to prevent this from occurring again," he said. "We are taking immediate steps to address this DMV error. We have notified and offered guidance to county election officials and we will ensure that impacted Californians are promptly notified and provided information to verify their voter registration status."

Padilla also reminded California voters that they can check their registration status at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov.

So, just how big of a problem is this in the scheme of things?

Not enough to disenfranchise state voters, according to Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., which provides election data and information to political campaigns.

"Nobody had their right to vote taken away," Mitchell told KPCC's Take Two. "Nobody was misregistered in a way that meant that they couldn't vote in an election or that it would impact their ability to vote in this coming November election."

Automatic voter registration has recorded 1.4 million new, updated and confirmed registrations through the DMV since April, so the mishandled registrations account for less than 2 percent of that. California has more than 19 million registered voters in total.

Mitchell also pointed out that people make enough mistakes on their own when registering to vote, including checking the wrong party box.

"We actually have a huge issue in California where there are a half-million voters who are registered with the American Independent Party and 97 percent of them think that they're registered independent," he said. "That is an error by an individual filling out usually a paper form...that kind of error has been reduced in this DMV process."

The debacle caught the attention of Rep. Jim Patterson, who represents Fresno in the state Legislature. The Republican congressman recently introduced a motion to audit the agency amid excruciating wait times at DMV field offices. The audit request fell one vote short in the state Senate.

"I'm not surprised," Patterson said in a tweet. "It's one thing to wait in long lines, but quite another to walk in to the DMV registered one party and walk out registered in another. The (DMV) cannot be trusted to police itself."

Patterson also took the opportunity to share an online petition calling for a new audit.


News happens every day. Here at LAist, our goal is to cover the stories that matter to you and the community you live in. Now that we're part of KPCC, those stories (including this one you're on right now!) are made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism isn't cheap, but with your support we can keep delivering it. Donate now.