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Oregon Could Be First to Enact Automatic Voter Registration

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, April 10 2013

Oregon could become the first state to implement automatic voter registration, Governing recently reported.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, currently in her second term, introduced a proposal in the state House last month that would allow Oregon to automatically register potential new voters when they apply for a driver's license.

Under the proposed legislation, designated voter registration agencies would transmit the age, residency and citizenship data as well as the digital signature of each person qualified to vote to the Secretary of State's office, which would then register those not yet on the voter rolls.

The Secretary of State would then notify every person registered in this way with information about selecting a party affiliation or cancelling the registration.

According to the article, the House Rules Committee has already held one hearing on the proposal and another one will likely follow in the coming weeks.

The proposal would differ from the practice in some states where voters can opt in to voter registration themselves when they apply for a driver's license, Governing explains. Under the proposal, around 500,000 eligible Oregon voters already in the DMV database would be automatically registered beginning in January 2014.

The new system would complement Oregon's existing policies of a vote-by-mail policy, existing since 1998, and online voter registration. According to Governing, that has led Oregon to have one of the highest turnout rates in the country. "But Brown says while the system means high turnout, it doesn't mean high registration rates. About a quarter of eligible Oregon voters weren't registered as of Election Day 2012," Governing reported.

Brown tells Governing that she was inspired to propose the legislation after working with Rock the Vote last fall. In her previous role as legislator herself, she spearheaded legislation creating a searchable online database of campaign contributions, according to her biography.

Greg Leo, executive director of the Oregon Republican Party, criticized the proposal, as Governing reported. "What we really need is an American electorate that takes the time to study the issues...We make it so easy for people to participate that I worry they won't take the time to be an informed voter and to really study the issues."

Brown counters, according to Governing, that with the new policy, advocacy organizations that currently spend money and time on voter registration campaigns could instead focus on voter education, leading to a more informed electorate.

The Oregonian also reported on other criticisms raised by Republicans, from philosophical objections to registering people without asking, concerns about government agencies sharing data with each other and worries about government intrusion.

Governing notes that since 2011, 13 states have considered automatic voter registration legislation. Florida, Hawaii and Texas legislators are also currently considering such legislation. In 2009, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed automatic voter registration legislation passed by the state legislature.

Rob Richie, executive director of Fair Vote, emphasized to Governing that automatic registration is the norm internationally, especially with countries that have national ID cards. He also suggested that Oregon's system could help improve the accuracy and integrity of voter rolls.

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