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Senate clears automatic voter registration

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Gov. Brown will sign; it was her top priority as secretary of state.


Automatic voter registration, linked with Oregon driver records, is headed to Gov. Kate Brown.

The Senate passed the bill on a 17-13 vote Thursday.

“I applaud the Senate for passing House Bill 2177, Oregon's motor voter bill,” Brown said in a statement after the vote. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for eligible voters to participate in our elections. As secretary of state, the motor voter bill was my top priority, and I look forward to signing this bill into law.”

As she did on a similar bill two years ago, Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose joined 12 Republicans against HB 2177. All other Democrats voted for it. The 2013 bill died on a 15-15 vote; Republicans then had 14 members.

The House passed it on Feb. 20, also along party lines.

As secretary of state, Brown testified for the bill on Feb. 2, the first day of the session. She became governor on Feb. 18 after John Kitzhaber resigned under pressure.

According to Gina Zejdlik, senior policy adviser to Brown and her chief of staff when Brown was secretary of state, the bill would add 300,000 to 400,000 voters to Oregon’s 2.2 million registered voters. Estimates put the total eligible but unregistered at 800,000.

The bill authorizes electronic transfer of records from the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division to the secretary of state, which maintains the Oregon Centralized Voter Registration system that ties in Oregon’s 36 counties.

Under current practice and a 1993 federal law, people are asked if they want to register to vote or change their address when they obtain a driver’s license. But those changes are made in paper form.

Driver records would not be transferred for those who are under age 18, those who are legally in the United States but are not citizens, and police officers, survivors of domestic violence and others whose records are already shielded from disclosure.

New voters can opt out of registration if they return a postcard within 21 days, up from the 14 days proposed in 2013. They also can indicate a political-party preference on the card; if they do not, they automatically will be registered with no party affiliation.

Republicans raised concerns about the security and privacy of records, citing a data breach last year on the secretary of state’s website, although the breach did not affect the voter registration system.

“With new technology, new problems arise,” says Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr. of Grants Pass.

Republican attempts failed on party-line votes to send the bill back to committee to add amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, says Oregon has done well in the share of registered voters who cast ballots in elections, because of statewide mail elections that voters authorized in 1998.

“Today our pioneering spirit brings us to a crucial reform that will empower our citizens,” she says.

“While other states take steps to limit voter participation and to disenfranchise voters, the Oregon Legislature is bucking that trend. We are leading the nation.”

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