Oregon’s new voter registration law: This is what democracy really looks like

oregonap523588750005As of this week, Oregon has a new system for registering voters. Under the law signed on Monday, March 16, Oregon citizens are automatically placed on the voter registration roll if they have had an interaction with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles since 2013.

The new law  is designed to make registering to vote easier, as opposed to erecting barriers to registration, which has become a politically motivated strategy elsewhere—mostly in states with Republican Governors and/or Republican-controlled legislatures.

What’s shocking is to realize that the new Oregon law is the first of its kind in the U.S.

Oregon’s Governor, Kate Brown, made streamlined voter registration a key plank in her campaign platform. She had previously pushed for automatic motor-voter registration as Oregon’s Secretary of State.

When she signed the bill, Brown said,

During the testimony on the bill, a legislator said to me, ‘It’s already so easy to register — why would we make it easier?’ My answer is that we have the tools to make voter registration more cost-effective, more secure and more convenient for Oregonians, so why wouldn’t we?

Oregon’s new law turns conventional voter registration on its head: Traditionally, citizens have had to seek out voter registration—opting in by going to an election board, signing a voter registration card, or, more recently, registering on-line. Under Oregon’s new procedure, registration is de facto. If a citizen does not want to be registered, he or she can opt out.

According to the Washington Post,

Oregon estimates the bill will add 300,000 new voters to its rolls. According to the state DMV, there are 876,086 more drivers with licenses in the state than registered voters, however, not all of those drivers may be eligible and some may opt out of being registered. Adding 300,000 voters to its rolls would increase the percentage of eligible voters who are registered to 83 percent.

But will having more registered voters increase actual turnout on election day? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, kudos to Oregon for another forward-thinking, democracy-promoting breakthrough.