I’ve written extensively about the ongoing troubles at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Last year, the DMV first made headlines with the scandal over long wait times brought about by a lack of any realistic plan to help millions of Californians update their licenses to comply with the federal Real ID Act.
This issue still hasn’t been resolved as lawmakers continued to demand answers. At a recent hearing, the Department testified that it expects a “summer surge” this summer as more Californians realize they will soon need a “Real ID Act” compliant license to travel.
Sincere efforts are being made to reform the Department’s operations and turn things around with new leadership. In January, Gov. Newsom appointed Kathleen Webb as acting director of the department, which the Sacramento Bee notes was its third director in 32 days. A fourth director will be headed to the Department soon, as the Governor’s office tweeted last week that they are searching for “a visionary, pragmatic leader who will create a new DMV to serve all Californians today and tomorrow.”
Among the bipartisan reforms proposed are allowing customers to pay via credit cards and through payment plans, allow car registrations to occur every 2 years, prohibit companies from selling DMV appointment slots, and letting more private firms like AAA offer services that can now only be obtained at a DMV office.
But long wait times are not the only scandal plaguing the DMV. I wrote last year about the DMV’s voter registration scandal under the newly updated Motor Voter law. More than 23,000 bogus voter registrations were processed, and 77,000 duplicative voter registration forms were created.
Two important reforms have been introduced to address this scandal.
Senate Republican Leader Emeritus Patricia Bates has proposed legislation (Senate Bill 57) preventing the DMV from registering people to vote without their permission – effectively changing Motor Voter to opt-in from the current opt-out.
“The current program is confusing and is unable to property operate. It’s time to fix the problem,” Bates said in statement. Her proposal makes a lot of sense as I’m sure many Californians didn’t realize they were being registered to vote at the DMV in the first place.
Another important reform is legislation (Senate Bill 511) by Sen. John Moorlach to create more transparency over the Motor Voter program. The bill would establish a new committee with representatives from all the key players – the Secretary of State, the DMV, and county elections officials – to ensure better sharing of key information so Motor Voter is properly implemented.
The Moorlach bill would also require something so simple that has long been missing in the Motor Voter scandal – requiring DMV employees to be trained in proper voter registration practices. Much of last year’s problem was the result of employees not being trained and making unnecessary mistakes. New training will hopefully prevent future voter registration errors and another scandal like we saw in 2018.
If they are serious about restoring the public’s trust, Webb, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should embrace these 2 reforms as part of a broader effort to clean up the DMV mess.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.