Oregon’s landmark new automatic voter registration system added nearly 52,000 voters in just four months this year, more than double what the state has normally seen for an entire year. That sounds impressive, but there’s a hitch. The so-called “motor voter” law — a first in the nation widely hailed as a way to boost voter participation — hasn’t made it much easier to participate in Oregon’s closed primary on Tuesday. Unlike the November general election when all voters can participate, the presidential primary in Oregon and some other states is restricted only to voters who are registered as Republican or Democrat. Under the new law, Oregonians 18 and up are automatically registered to vote while renewing or applying for a driver’s license or state ID card, but they can’t pick a party at that time. Instead, they’re registered by default as nonaffiliated, and a few days later they can choose a party or opt out on a form sent by mail.
Most people, however, don’t return their forms. As a result, three-quarters of the motor voter registrants are unable to vote for a presidential candidate Tuesday.
Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, whose agency is handling the law’s rollout, defended the new system.
“I certainly won’t argue that closed primary elections for brand new voters first time out is the way we’re going to get the most participation out of them,” she said. “The closed primary may not be the best example of when this will have a very big impact … the real proof of the pudding will come in November.”