Sweeping ‘New Motor Voter’ bill clears Oregon Legislature on partisan vote
… The Oregonian – March 5, 2015 …
A sweeping voter registration bill that could add another 300,000 to Oregon’s voting rolls won final passage in the Oregon Senate on Thursday on a 17-13 vote and heads to Gov. Kate Brown for her promised signature.
The so-called “New Motor Voter Bill” was promoted by Brown when she was secretary of state as a way to remove many of the barriers to voting, particularly for younger and poorer Oregonians who tend to move more often.
Republicans, however, charged that using drivers’ license data to automatically register voters raised worries about ID theft and undermined the privacy of Oregonians. House Bill 2177 passed both chambers without a single Republican vote. The only Democrat to vote no was Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, who had cast the deciding vote against a similar measure that died in the 2013 session.
Brown, who became governor last month, announced immediately after the vote that she looks forward to signing the bill when it reaches her desk. The secretary of state’s office said the system is unique nationally. Louisiana has a similar system for registering teens as they near voting age but nothing of this scope.
Under the measure, driver’s license data stretching back to 2013 will be used to begin registering Oregon citizens who aren’t already signed up to vote. Elections officials will send a postcard to the prospective new registrants giving them a chance to opt out.
The newly registered voters will also have the opportunity to register with one of the state’s political parties. If they don’t take action, they will be registered as a non-affiliated voter. The secretary of state’s office has estimated that the measure will add about 300,000 to the voting rolls, which now total just under 2.2 million.
During the nearly two-hour debate, Republicans repeatedly sought to raise the specter of a massive invastion of privacy if information gathered by the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division is transferred to elections officials — who maintain voter rolls open to the public.
“How would you like your 18-year-old daughter’s information running around the world?” asked Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby.
Democrats countered that that the bill has several privacy safeguards, including a provision that would prevent the transfer of data from people who have special protected status for their DMV data. This includes police officers and domestic violence victims.
The main purposes, they said, is to try to remove barriers to voting for people who move frequently and who may not take steps to try to register to vote until right before an election. Voters in 1986 approved a constitutional amendment cutting off registration 20 days before an election.
Looming in the background of the debate was the potential impact on politics in the state. Republicans have privately expressed concern that it could give Democrats a further advantage in elections. Brown, when she was still secretary of state, said the bill was “agnostic” politically and would increase registration in both urban and rural areas of the state.
Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, said that Oregon was expanding access to the ballot at the same time numerous other states are taking “steps to limit voter participation and to disenfranchise voters.”