These New Oregon Primary Rules Can't Help Bernie Sanders Now
Back in November, Bernie Sanders called for a constitutional amendment to automatically register voters "that says that everybody in America who has 18 years of age or older is registered to vote, end of discussion." Well, in Oregon his wish already came true. In 2015 the governor signed into law a bill that automatically registers anyone in the state with a drivers license who meets the requirements to vote; then they're sent a ballot in the mail. That should be great for Sanderes, but there's a hitch. Thus Oregon's automatic voter registration probably won't help Bernie much.
Combine the white, liberal demographics in the state and everyone being registered, and Sanders should be ecstatic. But listen to this. When people join the rolls through the new system, they're registered as "unaffiliated." Only later, in the mail, are they sent a form that gives them the option of joining a political party (or opting out of the whole process). And, yep, you guessed it. Oregon has a closed Democratic primary. That means that any of the 67,000 new voters who have joined the rolls through the DMV but failed to complete the second step cannot vote in the presidential primary Tuesday.
Of the 67,000 voters, only about 14 percent responded and chose a political party. Here's how the system works. The Oregon Secretary of State sends a mailer to everyone found through the Oregon DMV that doesn't match a preexisting voter registration. Then those residents have 21 days to respond. They can opt out of the system if they don't want to be registered, or they can acknowledge the registration and choose a political party. If the potential voter doesn't respond within the 21-day window, they're registered automatically as unaffiliated.
As of April 30, 55,905 of those mailers had matured, or met the 21-day mark. Only 4,776 returned the card to register as a Democrat. The other 51,000-plus new voters will have received ballots in the mail that don't allow them to vote for Sanders (or Hillary Clinton). Only the Democratic ballots include the presidential preference vote.
Since September the youth registration — voters between 18 and 29 — has increased 21 percent. And those new young people may not be able to vote in the primary if they didn't choose a party. Sanders has consistently done best in the youth demographic, but this surge may be hindered by their unaffiliated status. The new DMV voting law won't affect Clinton's core supporters much. Voter registrations among the elderly barely budged in the same period.
This of course, only applies to people registered through the DMV. Oregon has a total 2,293,959 voters, an all-time high. And not everyone, of course, was caught off guard by the need to register Democratic to vote in the primary. The party's registrations grew 16 percent from September through April, adding about 132,000 new voters. About 42 percent of Oregonians are now Democrats. The deadline to do so was April 26.
Now the question remains whether enough independents that want to vote Bernie reregistered on their own. Thanks to the closed primary system, that was far from automatic.