Voter Registration and Voter Participation in Oregon

Posted: April 28, 2014

April 28, 2014

Voter Registration and Voter Participation in Oregon.
Northwest Voting Rights Commission Hearing in Seattle.

Beginning during its earliest days as the Oregon Territory, in 1846 the settlers established voting rights while seeking statehood. During the past two decades, it has been a priority of Oregon Secretaries of State to move forward in encouraging both voter registration and voter participation.

In 1991, the Legislature passed the legislation creating voter registration via the DMV, before the Congress passed the National Voting Rights Act and Motor Voter as it became known. With the advent of the Help America Vote Act, HAVA, Oregon used the funds to create a Centralized Voter Registration system, aids for assisting disabled citizens to register and vote, as well as helping to fund the League’s Easy to Read and Spanish Votes’ Guides during the General Elections.

Secretary of State Kate Brown introduced the modernization of voter registration legislation as a priority during the 2013 legislative session. It called for the DMV to forward electronically to the Elections Division the names of all new vehicle and reregistering license holders. Upon receipt, any person who was not already registered to vote, would be automatically registered in the state system, receive a notification card and a post-paid reply card to use if they chose to opt-out. They also would receive a notice from the appropriate county elections office. The law could be amended to add any state agency that collects the necessary voter registration information data of name, birth date and citizenship status to also forward the information to the state for the registration procedure. The bill had substantial hearings and amendments, passed the House, but died in the Senate. It will be introduced again during the 2015 session.

There is a cadre of Oregonians, small but very vocal, who do not like our Vote by Mail system and continue to advocate for additional so-called “safeguards” in county election offices. The system is well protected with many processes and procedures for handling ballots and ensuring secured and correct election results. The latest idea from this group was discussed during the 2014 session in a proposal to add a Defective Ballot Board in the elections offices for more citizen oversight. It died in committee, but will no doubt come up again in 2015.

Also introduced this year was a new threat to voter registration. It involves proof of residency. In addition to the current requirements of a paper showing a legal mailing to the person at the address for registration purposes, other residency information would be necessary. The most serious requirement, however, is the mandate for the Secretary of State to research and implement a process for checking the residency of all Oregon registered voters. While the proposal did not receive a hearing during the short session, it will be introduced in 2015. It appears to be another one of those limits to citizen participation that are being enacted across the country. Among other problems, the cost would be enormous and the purpose unsubstantiated.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.
Kappy Eaton, League of Women Voters of Oregon Governance Coordinator

Category: LWV Testimony

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