Motor Voter Law Leads to Big Increase In Oregon Registration
Few, if any, states will show a bigger percentage increase in voter registration from last year to this year than Oregon. From the end of August 2015 through the end of this August, Oregon’s voter rolls grew by 298,320, or 13.7%. The bulk of the new voters, 232,181 to be exact, were registered through the state’s new motor voter program.
Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that the new voter-registration law was approved by voters last November and the program was launched January 1. Since then, Oregon has added a little more than 29,000 “motor voters” per month. Under the new law, each time an eligible unregistered voter visits the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for, renew, or replace an Oregon drivers’ license, ID card, or permit, the person is automatically registered and receives a mailing from the Oregon Elections Department informing them of their registration options.
Most newly eligible voters didn’t return their cards, leading the state to register them as unaffiliated. In Oregon’s closed primary system, that means they can vote only in general elections or for non-partisan contests such as judicial races and ballot measures. Only 27,035 people returned cards to choose a party. Almost as many, 23,204, returned a card to inform the state that they did not want to be registered.
Those statistics raise the question of how many people who were automatically registered will actually take time to vote, and suggests that voter-turnout efforts in Oregon should focus on the roughly 3-week period between when voters receive their ballots and Election Day rather than on registration.
There are some people who have not been automatically registered yet, and the Elections Department has started trying to reach them. In June, the department began sending letters to Oregonians who interacted with DMV in 2014-15 before the law went into effect. Those who have not received a letter and want to vote in this election can register online at https://secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar/vr/register.do. The registration deadline for the November election is Oct. 18.