Kate Brown Looks to Register 300,000 Oregonians

Evan Manvel

A requirement making people to take an extra step to register to vote seems like wasteful government bureaucracy and paperwork Republicans should be against.

The ability to vote is a core tenet of democracy. People across the world go to great lengths to vote; in many U.S. states people stand in line for hours to cast a ballot.

Yet Republicans have pushed hard to prevent people across America from voting. In Human Rights Magazine Denise Lieberman characterized recent efforts as “the greatest assault on voting in over a century” and noted “These new laws could impede access for more than five million eligible voters in 2012.”

As a counter force, Democrats are pushing to expand voter access in some states. Making national news this week is Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown’s effort to automatically register eligible people who interact with the DMV. By Brown’s estimates, the automatic registration (with an opt-out) would add about 300,000 Oregonians to the voting rolls (Oregonian article here.)

The bill would lower the hurdles to voting, hurdles that have disproportionate impacts on the poor.

I can't see any good arguments against the concept, a version of which was killed last session when it fell short by one vote in the Senate. The new Democratic majority is larger, and it appears likely that the bill will sail through (indeed, it passed out of its first committee yesterday on a party-line vote).

The current requirement making people to take an extra step to register to vote (albeit a small step) seems like wasteful government bureaucracy and paperwork Republicans should be against. The Bus Project, a major backer of the effort, notes it takes 83 cents to process a paper registration but 3 cents to process a digital one. But instead, the talking points argue that allowing more people to vote is a partisan issue, or that “lazy” people who don’t currently register don’t deserve to vote.

Compared with other states, Oregon generally scores well on voter access, even though it lacks a same-day registration law many states have and the right for people in prison to vote that Vermont and Maine have. Having an automatic registration law could put us ahead of the pack.

Standing up for voter access could be Oregon’s next signature piece of legislation, joining such achievements as the beach bill, our land use planning laws, and the bottle bill.

Let’s get this passed. Contact your legislator today in support of HB 2177, and thank Secretary Brown for her leadership.

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