As much as we focus on getting out the vote for each election, the first step in voting usually takes place long before election day. Throughout the United States, citizens must register before they are allowed to vote. Though some states allow same-day registration, most states require that voters register in advance of an election. Advance registration makes voting a multi-step process and is widely considered to be a barrier to voter access. Earlier this year, the Oregon came close to being the first state in the nation to eliminate this obstacle. Oregon’s House Bill 3521 proposed to authorize the state to automatically register voters based upon drivers’ license data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown estimated that this measure could add 500,000 new voters to the state’s voter registration rolls. Currently, voter registration ends 21 days before an election in Oregon. This means that non-registered, but eligible, voters who become interested in the election in the period between the registration deadline and election day are not allowed to vote.
The dramatic increase in media coverage and campaign outreach during the weeks immediately preceding the election contributes to increasing awareness of the election and its importance to people, and it is easy to see how people may only come to realize the importance of their vote after the registration deadline.
Despite having successfully passed in the state House, the proposed legislation was killed by a one vote margin in state Senate. The Senate vote was largely along party lines, with all fourteen Republican Senators and one Democratic Senator voting against the bill. Much of the opposition to the bill focused on two issues: concerns about increased voter fraud and a belief that “anyone who cared enough to vote should take personal responsibility for registering.” Republican leaders also worried that making registration easier would mean that the voters would take less time to become informed about the relevant issues in a given election.