So I’m guessing this was supposed to be good news, right? In Oregon, you will now be registered to vote pretty much automatically whenever you have any interaction with the DMV. That’s the new initiative being signed into law by newly inducted Governor Kate Brown (the nation’s first openly bisexual Governor!) and considered to be her first signature piece of legislation.
Sweeping first-in-the nation legislation making voter registration automatic in Oregon was signed into law on Monday by Governor Kate Brown, potentially adding 300,000 new voters to state rolls.
The so-called Motor Voter legislation will use state Department of Motor Vehicles data to automatically register eligible voters whose information is contained in the DMV system, with a 21-day opt-out period for those who wish to be taken off the registry.
Supporters say the legislation’s goal is to keep young voters, students and working families who move often from losing their right to vote. Republican lawmakers, who unanimously voted against the bill, complain it puts Oregonians’ privacy at risk.
There are all sorts of things not to like here, many of which have been pointed out by Republican legislators in Oregon who universally refused to support the bill. The original “Motor Voter” requirements implemented at the federal level in the early nineties, while containing some significant flaws, at least had the virtue of an ostensibly noble goal. It gave people the option (which is the key word here) to take care of registering to vote at the same time that they were taking care of some other business with the state rather than going to a different location for an entirely separate process.
The Oregon legislation goes much further. Rather than an option to register, you supposedly will have an option to “opt out” of registering. That’s assuming a small postcard arrives successfully in your mail box, you notice it, remember to fill it out, send it in and somebody actually processes the request correctly. And let’s face it… the people being targeted here are probably at just about the lowest end of the election knowledge scale if they didn’t even realize you had to register in order to vote. It’s not hard to imagine some of them assuming that the postcard is some sort of spam and just tossing it in the circular file.
“But,” some of you may wonder, “what’s the big deal about being registered if you didn’t intend to? It’s not like they’re making you vote.”
Good question. Not everyone is “on the grid” in terms of public data searches, sometimes for very good reasons. As just one example, victims of domestic abuse often wish to hide their current location from their abusers, but a simple desire for privacy is justification enough. Once you’ve been automatically registered to vote, you are in a database, and it’s often not the most secure thing in the world. For example, here in New York, there is a website you can visit and if you know somebody’s first name, last name and date of birth you can click one button and have their address. Pretty convenient for the stalker inclined web browser, no?
There are also considerations about voter fraud with the Oregon scheme. They claim that the database of drivers which is being tapped for the registration “includes information on whether a person is a citizen.” I’m sure that makes everyone feel better. Given how fired up Oregon has been to issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, there’s just all sorts of opportunities for things to go wrong.
What problem were they trying to solve here, anyway? I don’t believe there should be barriers for anyone to vote if they are legally entitled to do so and wish to. But shouldn’t there be some effort involved to demonstrate that you’re actually aware of the process and have an interest in taking part? Was the existing system holding so many people back from registering that this was required?