California officials expect Latino vote to be bigger than ever this election year

With a set of new measures to increase voter registration rolls this year in California, expectations are high for the impact Latino voters will have on the 2016 elections in the Golden State.

Along with automatic voter registration and a new statewide voter database, new projections that forecast a surge in the number of eligible Latino voters is seen by political experts as evidence that Latinos will change the outcome of many of the state’s election contests.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told Fox News Latino that voters from the Hispanic community will have an impact in the upcoming electoral processes.

“Latinos represent such a big percentage of the eligible but unregistered voters in California,” he said. “Over time, as the Latino population continues to grow, automatic registration will help ensure that the potential political flex for the Latino community grows even quicker.”

Due to a new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015, California will begin to automatically register eligible citizens to vote this year.

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The measure allows the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to send voter registration information directly to the secretary of state’s office when people receive a driver’s license or state ID card.

California is the second state in the nation to implement automatic voter registration. Under a new law passed in Oregon in March 2015, any eligible resident with a driver's license will be automatically registered to vote and will receive a ballot by mail weeks before Election Day.

Overall, legislators in 18 states plus the District of Columbia have introduced bills that would automatically register citizens who interact with motor vehicle offices and ensure that voter information is electronically and securely sent to the voter rolls.

Most of these new registrants, experts predict, would come from underrepresented communities, including people of color, the young and people with low income. More than 60 percent would be Latino or Asian American, according to a study from the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California Davis Center for Regional Change.

The percentage of Latino voters is expected to rise to 21.2 percent of the state's voters by the time of the 2016 presidential election, an increase from the 19.3 percent in 2012, adds the report.

“Even with low turnout rate, there will be a bigger portion of the vote that is going to be Latino,” said says Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project.

She added that “with the Latino population growing, that means that they will have larger percent of the vote even if their turnout rates remain the same.”

But, according to a provision of the law, the automatic registration system cannot be put in place until the secretary of state certifies the new statewide voter registration database, called Votecal.

Padilla promised that it will be up and running by June.

“It’s been delayed in years past prior to my term starting here in this office but we are on track” he said.

The secretary of state added that more than two thirds of California’s counties have already migrated from the old systems to Votecal, including Los Angeles, the state's most populous.

But experts caution that automatic registration and a Latino voter population on the rise do not mean Latinos will actually show up to vote if they are not properly motivated.

“There’s a lot of outreach that will be needed,” said Romero. “It is a positive step because you can’t vote if you’re not registered, but it doesn’t mean that they will vote.”

She added that there has to be an education component as well.

“You don’t want people to think we’re all registered, because it won’t be everybody at the same time,” she said.

Nevertheless, how Latinos are mobilized, particularly millennials who are a growing share of Latino voters, could help determine the outcome of a number of the state’s races in 2016 and beyond, added Romero.

Latinos, who recently surpassed whites as the largest ethnic group in California, make up 39 percent of the state’s population. Yet in 2014 they represented only 15 percent of the electorate, and only 17 percent of all Latinos who were eligible to vote did so.

By the 2016 general election, non-Latino whites will fall to 49 percent of California’s eligible voters. Thus, for the first time, a majority of eligible voters in California will be minority voters.

Meanwhile, if Latinos maintain their 2012 California eligible turnout rate of 39.4 percent, their percent of the state’s vote in 2016 is projected to rise to 21.2, up from 19.3 percent four years before.

Secretary of State Padilla said his office is trying to work with the DMV to see what kind of outreach can be done before the November election to encourage people who are eligible but not registered to do so and go to the polls.

“There are about 6.7 eligible unregistered people in California,” Padilla said. “Even a small percentage are big numbers in our state.”