Over the weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a “motor voter” law automatically registering eligible voters who obtain a driver’s license. While ostensibly a simple measure to increase the voter rolls, the law is discriminatory and threatens cherished American notions of equality of the franchise. It should be repealed immediately.
I don’t drive. I don’t drink. I already have a passport I can use when I fly. If I moved to California I would have utterly no interest in getting a driver’s license or state ID. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has a dreadful reputation for long lines and surly service. Why would I put myself through that?
Still, as a non-driver I have specific electoral interests. I support higher gas taxes. I would like to see significantly more investment in public transit. The typical SUV owner would probably disagree on both counts. Yet California just guaranteed that people like me will make up a smaller percentage of the voting population than people like him.
Why is that fair?
Think of it this way: we don’t automatically register potential voters when they get a gun license. Why not? With extensive background checks, surely fewer people would fraudulently register when they license their guns than when they become legal drivers. But it would be wrong to automatically register gun owners because that would subtly shift the opinion of registered voters in the direction of more sympathy to an expansive view of the Second Amendment. If it’s not California’s role to do that with guns, then it shouldn’t do it with driving, either.
The irony is non-drivers are more likely to be elderly, minority, poor, and disabled – voters Democrats like to claim as their own. That’s not new data – it’s been widely disseminated during the debates over voter ID. In that context, Democrats have repeatedly asserted that members of their coalition get driver’s licenses at lower rates. This law does not address that problem in any way. It just means a smaller percentage of the California electorate will come from the groups that don’t tend to get driver’s licenses – and the state will have a relatively younger, whiter, richer, and more able-bodied electorate.
I want as many citizens as possible to have access to our political process – which is why I oppose voter ID laws and support voting rights for felons. But expanded access shouldn’t mean special access for one group of voters with particular interests.
The idea behind the Twenty-Fourth Amendment (which ended the poll tax) was that poverty – like all other personal characteristics – should play no role in people’s access to the ballot box. California’s latest move means whole classes of its citizens will have their voices diluted at the ballot box. The franchise is our most precious right, from which all others derive, and when it’s not extended to all Americans on an equal basis, our democracy is corrupted.
David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.