The Oregon Senate passed a bill Thursday that could add 300,000 new voters to the state’s rolls right away and hundreds of thousands more in the future. Gov. Kate Brown, who introduced what supporters have labeled a first-of-its-kind bill last month when she was still secretary of state will, of course, sign it. The bill passed 17-13 along party lines with only one Democrat in opposition.
Colloquially called the “new motor voter” bill, it mandates the Oregon Department of Transportation to share with the secretary of state information on anyone who provides proof of residency, age and citizenship—all that is needed to register to vote.
Driver’s license data back to 2013 will be used to register Oregon citizens who haven’t yet signed up to vote. Postcards will be sent to these citizens notifying them that they have been automatically registered. The secretary of state’s office estimates that this mandate will add some 300,000 Oregonians to the voting rolls. Current registration is nearly 2.2 million.
Oregon, one of
two three states where voting is exclusively by mail, had the fifth-highest voter turnout of the states in the 2014 midterm elections, 51 percent. Maine (58 percent), Wisconsin (56.5 percent), Alaska (53.8 percent) and Colorado (53.4 percent) were the states with higher turnout.
Among the reform groups that backed the bill was New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice:
“This legislation is an important paradigm shift on voter registration,” Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, said in a statement. “… This is a bold new standard that other states should work toward as a model for reform.”
On the other hand, Republicans, who have worked assiduously for the past few years trying to suppress the vote across the country, raised objections to the bill. During the two-hour Senate debate, they raised issues of ID theft and privacy. Advocates for the bill said it includes protections that address these concerns effectively. But there is another GOP concern:
Looming in the background of the debate was the potential impact on politics in the state. Republicans have privately expressed concern that it could give Democrats a further advantage in elections. Brown, when she was still secretary of state, said the bill was “agnostic” politically and would increase registration in both urban and rural areas of the state.
This is the kind of bill we ought to see imitated in 49 other states.