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Brakkton Booker

In a move lawmakers hope will drive more Californians to the polls, Gov. Jerry Brown approved legislation that automatically registers citizens to vote when they obtain or renew driver's licenses or state identification cards.

The measure, known as the "New Motor Voter Act," was signed into law Saturday. California joins Oregon as the second state in the nation opting to register voters through its department of motor vehicles. Oregon passed its law in March.

California's Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement the law will "make voter registration seamless" and it would amount to "the largest voter registration drive in the nation's history." He added:

"In a free society, the right to vote is fundamental. ... The New Motor Voter Act will make our democracy stronger by removing a key barrier to voting for millions of California citizens. ... "

"Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote," Padilla added. "We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process. The right to vote should be no different."

Padilla notes voters retain the right to opt out, cancel or change party affiliation at any time. His office also said an estimated 6.6 million Californians are eligible to vote, but they are not registered to.

Emily Rusch, the executive director of the advocacy group California Public Interest Research Group, hopes the new law changes those figures.

"Our democracy is absolutely dependent on the participation of all our eligible citizens. But right now we see that far too many Californians aren't even registered to vote, so they're not even getting information about the election," Rusch said.

California is also coming off a dismal showing during last year's midterm elections, which had a record-low turnout of 42 percent.

Rusch thinks the new motor voter law will likely have the greatest impact on young millennials. She said only 52 percent of the state's residents ages 18 to 24 were registered to vote before the midterm election.

"That means nearly that over half of eligible youth are just being left out entirely of the process," Rusch said.

"Certainly we will still need to do outreach and education. Young people move around a lot. And so we'll need to make sure they're updating their voter registration as they move around and they have adequate information about the elections that they feel confident voting on a ballot," Rusch added.

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