Automatic (universal) voter registration – Oregon leads the way


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Stephen Hill at The Atlantic calls for states to enact automatic voter registration in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder. So the Voting Rights Act Is Gutted—What Can Protect Minority Voters Now?:

[The] Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder effectively cripples the Voting Rights Act. It flies in the face of a mountain of evidence
of ongoing disenfranchisement — from voter-ID laws to intimidation and
long lines at the polls – and the fact that Republican legislators
continue to push laws designed to disenfranchise targeted communities.
The conservative majority's tortured logic relied on statistical
evidence of reduced inequities between whites and minorities in
voter-registration rates, but as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, voting discrimination has declined because
of the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Acts. Without these
protections to derail attempts to roll back the clock, new setbacks are
inevitable. But, as has been said before of the Roberts Court, "Five
votes beats a reason any day."
So the question is what the heck do those who care about equality and democracy do now?. . .

* * *

The most encouraging option for voting-rights advocates to pursue is automatic voter registration
(sometimes known as universal voter registration). Nearly a quarter of
eligible voters — at least 51 million Americans — are not registered,
according to a recent study from the Pew Center on the States.
The norm in established democracies around the world is to register all
citizens automatically when they reach the age of eligibility. There
are no forms to fill out or lines to stand in; eligible voters are
simply assigned a unique identifier, like a Social Security number, that
follows them for life. When the government takes responsibility for
achieving 100 percent registration, there are no partisan battles over
who is or is not registered, and registration status is removed from the
contested terrain of politics
. Conservatives who are genuinely
concerned about reducing voter fraud should support universal
registration, since the Pew Center study found that it would resolve
approximately 24 million inaccurate registrations.

The voting-rights angle here is that the ranks of those 51 million
"unregistered eligibles" are filled disproportionately with racial
minorities, the poor, and the young. So by enacting automatic voter
registration, the country would add far more minority citizens to voter
rolls than will ever be disenfranchised by whatever results from Shelby County. If the ruling provides some momentum for such reform efforts, we will have made some lemonade from the lemons.

But naturally the partisans will look at this through a different
lens. Since enacting automatic voter registration would enfranchise
millions of minority and young voters — who are strongly inclined to
vote Democratic — Republicans will oppose it. Certainly House Speaker
John Boehner is unlikely to let a bill for automatic voter registration
get out of any committee.

But the reform actually can be passed on a state-by-state basis
through state legislatures. In fact, there are about a dozen states,
including California, Massachusetts, Washington, and Illinois, where
Democrats have won the trifecta — they control the governor's seat as
well as both houses of the state legislature. In these states, there
aren't enough obstructionist Republicans to halt these efforts. When I
directed the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation, we
sponsored a bill in the California legislature to enact automatic voter
registration. Not surprisingly, the Republican caucus fiercely opposed
it. But even more disappointingly, Democrats — including the usually
progressive secretary of state — failed to embrace it.

This is tragic, because automatic voter registration is a great tonic
to voter-ID laws, which Democrats and civil-rights leaders have fought
doggedly. If voter IDs were coupled with a unique identifier for every
eligible voter, they could be used to implement automatic voter
registration. That would turn voter-ID laws on their head, registering
to vote millions of minorities and youth — far more than the number who
are likely to stay home for lack of a voter ID. This idea was endorsed
by the 2006 Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and GOP uber-consigliere James Baker III.

It's one of the great political mysteries that Democrats haven't
already passed automatic voter registration in many of these trifecta
states. Not only would it be the right thing to do, but it would also be
in their best interest. These states would become models for others —
and even for the federal government, in case Congress ever emerges from
the quicksand. But Democrats are stuck, too.

The Secretary of State of Oregon, Kate Brown, is pursuing an automatic voter registration bill in the Oregon legislature. Automatic voter registration bill passes Oregon House largely on partisan vote:

[The] Oregon House . . . passed a bill aimed at automatically
registering hundreds of thousands of additional voters in Oregon.

Democrats, saying the legislation is is designed to remove hurdles to voting, pushed through House Bill 3521 on a largely party-line vote of 32-28.

The measure is the centerpiece of a drive by Secretary of State Kate
Brown to give Oregon one of the most expansive voter rolls in the

However, the infighting over the legislation has turned intensely
partisan, with all but one Republican – Rep. Bob Jenson of Pendleton –
voting against the bill. Three Democrats also voted no.

The bill faces a more difficult test in the Senate, where Sen. Betsy
Johnson, D-Scappoose, has expressed her opposition and all the
Republicans appear opposed.

The measure calls for using driver's license data from the state to
automatically register people if they are citizens and meet other
criteria for voting. Under the bill, the secretary of state's office
would send a postcard to all new registrants giving them a chance to opt
out of registering.

Brown, a Democrat, estimates the bill could add about 500,000 new registered voters in Oregon. Currently, just under 2.2 million are registered to vote, about 75 percent of those estimated to meet the eligibility for voting.

* * *

Democrats, including Brown, say that many voters become interested in
voting only after registration is cut off in Oregon, which is 20 days
before an election.

Some states allow voters to register as late as election day, but
Brown has said that is complicated in Oregon because ballots are sent by
mail to every registered voter shortly after the 20-day cut-off.

Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, also said that the bill might
conflict with federal laws protecting the privacy of driver's license
records. Once the information moves into the voter files, it becomes a
public record and can be sold, she noted.

Tony Green, a spokesman for Brown, said the secretary of state is
confident that the data transfer would not violate federal law. He noted
that the courts already use driver's license data to call people for
jury duty.

Legislators also argued over the cost of enacting a big increase in
the number of registered voters. Opponents of the bill said the cost of
additional ballots would hurt financially troubled counties in rural
Oregon. Supporters say it could eventually decrease costs by relieving
counties of the need to process thousands of filled-in voter
registration forms turned in before elections.

The bill is now in the Oregon Senate.


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