Topping a list of 13 bills that Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown will push in 2015 is one that would add 300,000 voters to the state’s registry and eventually create one of the most complete voter rolls in the country. Oregon nearly created a law known as universal voter registration two years ago that would have added a half-million voters to its rolls. Under the law, eligible voters wouldn’t have to do anything to register to vote. The state would do it for them using records the Department of Motor Vehicles has on file. Brown is proposing the law again this year. Opponents are wary of costs and say voters should take initiative to register if they want to be involved in the voting process. Supporters say the process would continue a century-long progressive approach to elections in Oregon and create one of the most seamless processes for voting in the country. Brown says the onus should be on the state, not the voter, if Oregon wants to conduct open and accessible elections. The law would register residents as unaffiliated voters when records show they’re eligible. Those who don’t want to be registered could then opt out.
“Right now we put the burden on those who wish to participate. You have to be proactive,” Brown said in an interview with The Bulletin on Thursday. “This would put the burden on those who don’t want to participate. And we think in a democracy that’s the right placement.”
Oregon would be the only state to conduct both vote-by-mail elections and universal voter registration, leaving elections experts uncertain what could happen to the state’s consistently high voter turnout under the new system. “We would be in completely uncharted territory,” said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who tracks America’s elections.
McDonald said Canada saw decreased turnout in its elections after moving to universal registration. But Oregon’s all vote-by-mail system could buck that trend, he said.