California this spring will begin automatically registering adults who obtain or renew a driver’s license to vote, leading to some concern non-citizens and immigrants illegally living in the state could find it easier to cast ballots in elections.
State officials are disputing those claims, however, and say safeguards in place will prevent non-citizens from voting.
The issue involves the latest implementation of the California Motor Voter Act, which beginning in April will send information about drivers to state voter rolls unless the license holder opts out, or is not eligible. The automatic registration component of the process has some concerned about potential fraud.
You're setting the state up for a disaster. They don’t seem to have a process in place to verify that people are who they say they are.
“You’re setting the state up for a disaster. They don’t seem to have a process in place to verify that people are who they say they are. It’s a free-for-all, a process that can be manipulated,” said Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote, a national organization that unsuccessfully pressed Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the law allowing automatic registration.
A California official pushed back against those concerns, telling Fox News those who must apply for or renew a special license classification – the AB 60, named after the bill that gave illegals the right to apply for licenses in 2015 - would be excluded from the voter notification process.
“The driver license application program prevents undocumented Californians from being able to register to vote,” said Jessica Gonzalez, Assistant Deputy Director of the DMV. “Automatic programming will not let them go to the (voter) registration section. It will be automatically grayed out and can’t be bypassed. It will require proof of U.S. citizenship and California residency.”
Critics of the automatic registration process say they remain skeptical about the ability of the state to keep ineligible people off the registration rolls. Former California State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a former vice chairman of the Committee on Elections, says the state generally does an inadequate job of scrutinizing voter registration.
“Different agencies in California don’t effectively communicate with each other,” Donnelly told Fox News. “Cracks exist in the system.
The DMV is probably sincere in trying to do its job … When we were debating AB60 when I was in the legislature, they said the (AB 60) license wouldn’t be able to be used for federal purposes, and they are being used to board aircrafts.”
Linda Paine, co-founder of the nonpartisan Election Integrity Project of California, said her organization has visited DMV offices to observe how workers handle undocumented immigrants. She said the visits, and meetings with state officials, left her with little confidence about any safeguards to prevent illegal voter registration.
“There are thousands and thousands of DMV workers across our huge state,” Paine told Fox News. “They’re not all trained … It’s not even that people who are ineligible want to be registered. They may not know that they have to select ‘Opt out.’”
Gonzalez maintained DMV employees “go through rigorous training” to ensure that documents establishing citizenship and legal residency are valid. Nearly one million of the AB 60 licenses have been issued since the law was passed in 2015.
Others argue voter fraud concerns are overblown. Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, or CCC, a nonpartisan voting rights advocacy group, expressed confidence the new registration process would not open the door to widespread fraud.
“There’s a real interest [by all parties] in making sure that there are clear signals when people are filling out a DMV form,” Feng told Fox News. “They’re asked if they’re 18, if they’re U.S. citizens. They don’t move on to the voter registration if they’re not eligible.”
Feng argued most immigrants would not want to risk their chances of legalizing their status or, in the case of people who have a green card, becoming naturalized. “My aunt was not a U.S. citizen for many years, and there was nothing she would do that would jeopardize her status here.”
CCC was one of several organizations that filed a federal lawsuit against the DMV last year, saying it made it difficult for people to register to vote by not making it part of the application to renew or obtain licenses.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on Wednesday, Jan. 24 to include new information from the California DMV, clarifying details of the agency’s implementation of the California Motor Voter Act.
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente