An automatic voter-registration proposal pending in the Oregon Legislature that would add roughly 300,000 voters to the rolls next year appears to be on the fast track to passage.
Under the bill from Secretary of State (soon to be governor) Kate Brown, the state would collect data from Driver and Motor Vehicle Services and use that information to automatically register voters.
Prospective voters would be given at least three weeks to decide whether they wanted to opt out of registering, or whether they wanted to register with any particular party. If they failed to register with a party, they would be added to the rolls as an unaffiliated voter.
Although they won’t say so in exactly these terms, Republicans worry that adding so many voters to the rolls will pad the advantage already enjoyed by Democrats in terms of registered voters. (One way to combat that might be for Republicans to identify and groom candidates with statewide appeal – especially considering the likelihood that most of the new voters would be unaffiliated. After all, people who haven’t registered to vote despite the ease of doing so in Oregon aren’t likely to have strong political opinions one way or the other.)
That’s part of the reason why we were surprised to find out that one of the people testifying in favor of the bill (House Bill 2177) was Linn County Clerk Steve Druckenmiller. Druckenmiller told the House Rules Committee that he was “a very conservative man” — and added that he thought it was wrong to put any unnecessary barriers in the way of the right to vote, according to an account of the hearing in The Oregonian.
In fact, Druckenmiller compared it to restrictions on the right to bear arms: “People went and died for my right to vote,” he told the committee. “They didn’t die for my right to register to vote.”
We called Druckenmiller to ask about his testimony, and he stuck to his guns: “A conservative believes the government should not limit constitutional rights,” he said, and he noted that the bill would remove some of the remaining limits to voter registration. “If you have the right, you should have the right to exercise it,” he said, without requiring an extra step to activate it.
He noted for the record that the bill would be a benefit to his office and to county elections officers around the state: “It seems to me it just solves a myriad of problems.”
The bill is expected to pass the Legislature, although possibly along party lines. It seems likely that the next governor will sign the bill, especially since she proposed it in the first place. As Republicans take their final shots in opposition, they may want to keep Druckenmiller’s principled arguments in mind — and then work to find candidates who will appeal to Oregon’s newest batch of voters. (mm)