Secretary of State Kate Brown hopes a more Democratic Legislature will improve the odds for her effort to automatically add licensed drivers to the voter rolls.
Brown’s initiative is one of several stymied liberal priorities that are likely to find a friendlier reception in the new Legislature, which begins a five-month session Feb. 2.
The bill passed the House in 2013 but fell one vote short in the Senate. Brown said she and her staff haven’t spoken with all the newly elected lawmakers yet, but she’s optimistic about her chances.
Brown’s bill, HB 2177, would require the state to use driving records to identify people who are eligible to vote and automatically register them. They would receive a postcard allowing them to opt out or select a political party if they choose to do so.
“We want to make participating in our democracy as simple and as easy as possible,” Brown said Thursday.
Her office estimates the measure would add 300,000 people to the 2.2 million registered voters.
Critics say it’s not too much to ask people who want to cast a ballot to fill out a registration form.
“Generally speaking, citizenship and engaging in voting should be an active responsibility of citizens,” said Greg Leo, a spokesman for the Oregon Republican Party. The GOP opposes the bill, but since it’s likely to pass, Leo said Republicans will try to engage with newly registered voters.
Democrats picked up seats in both the House and Senate in last year’s election, pulling both chambers to the left and making it easier for liberals to get controversial legislation approved.
On top of Brown’s voting bill, liberals also hope they can pass gun control and environmental legislation that couldn’t make it through the Senate, where Democrats had a narrow 16-14 majority. The party picked up two seats in the Senate and one in the House, which now stands at 35-25.
Combined with Oregon’s all-mail elections, Brown’s voting bill would mean that most adult citizens who drive would automatically get a ballot in their mailbox.
Oregon requires proof of citizenship or legal presence in the United States before issuing a driver’s license. The Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division keeps track of which drivers showed proof of citizenship, but DMV records aren’t capable of finding find every eligible but unregistered voter, said David House, an agency spokesman.
Oregon started requiring proof of legal presence on Jan. 1, 2009, and licenses are good for eight years, he said, so there are thousands of people with valid licenses who haven’t had to document that they’re legally in the country. And legal residents who become citizens — making them eligible to vote — aren’t required to tell the DMV that they’ve become citizens.
Brown, a former Democratic legislator who is midway through her second term as secretary of state, is widely viewed as a potential candidate for governor in 2018. She sidestepped questions about whether she plans to run, saying she’s focused on her voter registration and campaign finance initiatives.