HB 3521 would have automatically registered most voters

JohnsonState Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, joined Senate Republicans Sunday, July 7, to defeat a bill that would automatically register holders of Oregon drivers’ licenses to vote.

House Bill 3521 cleared the House of Representatives last month, but with Johnson and Senate Republicans against the bill, it failed to pass when put up for a vote in the Senate. Democrats hold a slim 16-14 majority in the chamber, meaning that without cross-party support, they need all of their senators on board to pass any legislation.

Speaking Friday, June 28, Johnson reaffirmed her opposition to the bill.

“My view is we ask so little of Americans that to require that somebody go down and register before they exercise the high privilege of voting in this country doesn’t seem to be burdensome,” Johnson said, describing how her mother’s involvement in the League of Women Voters and her grandmother’s dedication to voting in every election after women’s suffrage taught her the value of civic participation.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Kate Brown, who pushed hard for HB 3521 during this year’s legislative session, said Oregon’s top election official is committed to expanding the voter rolls.

“The secretary of state believes that every eligible Oregon voter should have an opportunity to cast a ballot on Election Day,” said Tony Green, Brown’s communications director, last month. “It should be their choice to cast a ballot on Election Day.”

Under Oregon’s constitution, a person must be registered to vote at least 20 days before an election in order to cast a ballot.

That deadline has tripped up would-be voters, Green contended.

Before last year’s election, “We had 16,000 go to online voter registration and sign up, but they did not receive a ballot because it was after the 20-day deadline,” Green said. “We don’t know how many others said, ‘Oh, I missed the deadline,’ and didn’t bother to register.”

But Johnson said those people only have themselves to blame for missing the deadline. She suggested it indicated they “didn’t care enough” about the election process.

“If one takes the act of voting seriously and with the responsibility that I think comes with it, one would pay attention to the deadline for registering to vote, and one would register,” she said.

Johnson said she wants to see more focus on civics in Oregon’s education system.

“Part of it is I think we ought to do a better job teaching young people the importance of voting,” Johnson said, adding, “I want an informed, engaged electorate. I am not about just having bulked-up numbers. And there is absolutely no guarantee, if this bill passes, that people are going to participate.”

The legislative session ended Monday, July 8, the day after HB 3521 was defeated.

If HB 3521 had become law, it would have made Oregon the first state in the country to offer automatic voter registration.

The bill drew interest from some national Democrats, including former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean, who linked to a story about Johnson’s vote and expressed his dismay on Twitter Monday.

“We need a new Senator,” Dean’s Tweet read in part.

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