Oregon Becomes First State To Auto-Register Voters

In a move that has raised some eyebrows, on Monday Oregon became the first state to automatically register voters via its department of motor vehicles, The Washington Post reported. Whenever an Oregonian gets or renews their driver's license, they'll become registered voters, unless they opt out. According to Gov. Kate Brown, who pushed for the bill when she was still Oregon's secretary of state, the new law will increase the state's registered voters from 2.2. million to 2.5 million, the Post reported.

This concept of connecting to potential voters through the DMV isn't a brand new one; there's already a federal law that lets people register to vote while getting their license, the Post article notes, Oregon's new "Motor Voter" law, as it's known, just takes the process a step further. Brown said during the law's signing ceremony that other states should follow Oregon's example:

I challenge every other state in this nation to examine their policies and find ways to ensure that there are as few barriers as possible in the way of a citizen’s right to vote.

Not everyone likes the new law, however, including Oregon Republicans. No Republican in either chamber of Oregon's legislature voted for the law, which suggests they think it will benefit Democrats. Political analysts told The Oregonian that, in fact, when voter turnout is high, especially in presidential elections, that does tend to favor Democrats.

In addition, GOP lawmakers raised potential privacy concerns, The Oregonian reported. That's because while DMV data is private and protected, voter registration information is required by law to be open. Whether that will lead to sensitive information being made public remains to be seen, but supporters of the law say there are protections in place.

Here's how the law will work, according to The Oregonian: The secretary of state's office will provisionally register voters as non-affiliated, or independent (meaning not as a Democrat or a Republican) based on drivers' license information from the DMV, and will notify them they have 21 days to opt out.

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With voter turnout in the U.S. embarrassingly low, anything that makes it easier to get people on the voting rolls has to be a good thing. And even if the trends suggest that high voter turnout tends to benefit Democrats, isn't it in all political parties' interests to have as many voters available as possible? Registering to vote and actually going to vote are still separate things. It's up to the political parties to mobilize would-be voters to take that next step, by presenting viable candidates and compelling ideas that connect with voters. That's the hard part.

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