As readers know, I'm no fan of Oregon's all Vote-by-Mail elections. (Yes, I understand most of you Oregonians love it. Save your hate mail and/or read this and this and this and this and this.) Nor am I a fan of Washington Post's mostly terrible editorial page. But on this matter, both the state and the paper have it right...
Oregon's new law assigns the state more responsibility to keep voter rolls complete and accurate, taking much of the burden off individuals. Oregonians who meet voting eligibility rules will be automatically registered to vote when they get drivers licenses or personal ID cards. The state Department of Transportation already collects all the basic information needed to register people - legal name, age, residence, citizenship information and electronic signature. It also regularly collects change of address information. Why not share all of that with the state officials responsible for keeping the voter rolls? It's an obvious move. Yet in doing so, Oregon becomes a national leader.
Oregonians will still be able to decline registration. State election officials must send all automatically registered voters a card asking if they would prefer to stay off the rolls. But making voter registration opt-out rather than opt-in is long overdue ... Oregon expects to register 300,000 of its 800,000 unregistered residents immediately, and thousands more as the system phases in. There's no good case for making people go through the hassle of traditional, opt-in registration simply to exercise the fundamental right to vote.
Forcing people to register to vote before they are allowed to exercise their right to do so has long been little more than a way to keep certain people from voting. That's largely why it's been done the way it has been for so many years in this country. So, kudos to Oregon for beginning to remove that ridiculous obstacle. Every other state in the union ought to do the same thing. But, of course, they won't.
"The United States is one of only a few democracies in the world where the government does not take responsibility for registering voters," writes FairVote.org on their page explaining why they favor universal registration. "In contrast, the international norm is an orderly process of automatic registration of every citizen who reaches voting age and of every person who becomes a citizen. Citizens are automatically placed on voter rolls upon reaching voting age and/or government officials actively work to register all citizens."
WaPo's editorial board offers this ridiculous --- okay, I'll be charitable and call it aspirational --- notion at the end of their otherwise common sense editorial: "Republican-led states that have been erecting new barriers to voting should instead look to Oregon's example. So should Congress, which has broad powers under the Constitution to regulate voting in federal elections and could begin pushing states in the right direction."
Neither Republican-led states nor the Republican-led Congress is going to do any such thing, of course. (Every single Republican in the Oregon state Senate voted against the measure last week.) It'll be interesting to simply find out which Democratic-led states, if any, join Oregon in this otherwise common sense (small "d") democratic reform.
Still, whether or not it can actually be done at the federal level within the next couple of years (it can't), it would certainly supply Democrats with yet another positive legislative initiative that they could offer to voters as a reason to actually, ya know, go out and vote for them next time they have the opportunity. Not that Dems have shown themselves to be particularly adept at such things in the recent past --- but, again, I'll be charitable today.
Congrats and thanks for leading the way on this one, Oregon!
ADDENDUM 3/18/2015: In the sidebar marquee (as well as on Twitter) I had linked to this article on Oregon's new Universal Registration policy and declared "49 more states to go!"
But, in fact, there is already another U.S. state with Universal Registration. Actually, North Dakota has no voter registration at all. Anybody citizen who is of age and declares ND to be their residence can vote there. See Brennan Center's 2014 explanation of the current voting laws in the state.
I actually knew that about ND. But, frankly, their policy has been in place for so long (decades) and voter access there has been so non-controversial for the most part over all of that time, that I complete forgot about it! Thanks to @NeenerKat on Twitter for the reminder and my apologies for the oversight. So, as NeenerKat says: "48 more to go"!
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)