Here's why California's new DMV voter registration law won't raise turnout rates anytime soon

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The Motor Voter Act took effect Jan. 1 and made headlines as California became one of the first states to automate voter registration when people visit the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Though sold as one way to help boost the state's dismally low voter turnout rates, improvement in the numbers may not materialize, at least not immediately. As more people join the state’s voter rolls, they won’t necessarily show up to vote, and that could drive the rates down even lower.

California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla says he heard that possible outcome used as an argument against the new law when pushing for its passage, but in his view, it’s an argument that doesn’t hold up. 

"The real way to look at it is: will the raw number of people casting ballots in future elections go up? I believe they will, and that’s where we’re keeping our focus and our energy," he said.

Answering questions after taping a Take Two segment on Monday, Padilla said automated voter registration at the DMV should be fully up and running no later than mid-2017.

The first step is completing the work on VoteCal, the state's long-delayed voter database that is expected to be finished by June. After that, revising forms and training DMV employees will begin, among the steps needed to get the system running.

"I think it's safe to say that by the 2018 gubernatorial election, there's going to be a significant infusion of new registrants through this automatic registration process," he said. 

With nearly 6.7 million Californians eligible but not registered to vote, Padilla expects the new law will bring in hundreds of thousands of new voters each year. Estimates show 85 to 90 percent of eligible, unregistered voters will ultimately be added to the state's voter rolls, according to Padilla.

Padilla points out that the new registrations will spark outreach to people who have been previously ignored through voter information guides, sample ballots, and materials from candidates and campaigns.

To hear more from Secretary of State Alex Padilla, listen to his interview with Take Two's A Martinez

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