Senator Alex PadillaSACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — California Health Benefit exchange is one of hundreds of state offices required to offer voter registration services under Senate Bill 35 by Calif. Senator Alex Padilla. Last year, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 35, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), which expands voter registration by requiring that California come into full compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), commonly known as Motor Voter. The new law became effective January 1, 2013.

As part of California’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance coverage for individuals and small businesses will become available beginning in October, 2013 through the California Health Benefit Exchange, known as Covered California.

“Increasing voter registration strengthens our democracy. Nearly 5.8 million Californians who are otherwise eligible to vote are not registered,” Padilla said. We can and must do more to improve access to voter registration,” Padilla added.

“For 20 years, California did not fully implement Motor Voter. With SB 35, we have a streamlined opportunity to register millions of eligible Californians when they apply for benefits, not just through Covered California, but in over a dozen state agencies that offer public services in offices throughout the state,” said Senator Alex Padilla.

SB 35 (Padilla) requires the California Health Benefit Exchange to provide voter registration online to its clients. In addition, SB 35 requires hundreds of state offices in all 58 counties to fully implement Motor Voter.

Specifically SB 35:

• Requires the Secretary of State (SOS) to adopt regulations to fully implement Motor Voter;
• Empowers the SOS to review state agencies’ compliance;
• Requires county elections officials to train county Motor Voter agencies;
• Requires each agency to ensure that each employee of the agency, who may provide voter registration services, is trained every year; and
• Requires a county agency to designate an employee to be responsible for voter registration.

State agencies that must comply with SB 35 include:

• California Health Benefit Exchange
• Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
• Armed Forces Recruitment Offices
• Independent Living Centers
• CalWORKs
• CalFresh Program
• Medi-Cal Program
• California WIC Agencies
• In-Home Supportive Services Program
• Department of Rehabilitation: Vocational Rehabilitation Services
• Department of Developmental Services: Regional Centers
• Department of Social Services: Office of Deaf Access
• Mental Health Providers
• Franchise Tax Board
• Board of Equalization

SB 35 by Senator Padilla is important for implementation of Motor Voter in California. Voter registration at public assistance agencies steadily declined since Motor Voter was passed, from a peak of 158,168 registrations in 1996 to 30,726 in 2011, this, despite rising levels of applications at public assistance agencies. Increased compliance will result in increased voter registration. Ohio and Missouri both increased their compliance with Motor Voter in 2009 and saw increases in registrations of 480% and 677% respectively.

A random field investigation carried out in 2009 by Project Vote, a national non-partisan voter organization, of 29 public assistance agencies in six counties, found only one that provided voter registration applications and services to clients. Motor Voter requires that social service agencies provide their clients with a mail-in voter registration application when applying for benefits, renewing/recertifying benefits, and reporting a change of address. The agencies are also required to assist the client in filling out the voter registration application and submit the completed application for the client.

Senator Alex Padilla, 40, graduated from MIT with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He currently serves on the Board of MIT and as President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He is Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and represents the more than 1,100,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District which includes most of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.