Oregon, being home to Nike, believes the mantra, "Just Do It" and Monday the story was new Governor Kate Brown signed into law automatic voter registration for Oregon residents--a pioneering initiative complementing their other pioneering decision 17-years ago to move to statewide exclusive vote by mail (save those with disabilities). Apparently, "pioneering" is a recurring theme for Oregonians. Good on them.
Under the legislation, every adult citizen in Oregon who has interacted with the DMV since 2013 but who hasn't registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days prior to the next statewide election. They'll initially be registered as "unaffiliated" but will be able to change that through the mail. For those concerned that this could lead to voter fraud, bear in mind Oregon's law requires a resident obtaining a driver's license to prove they are in the U.S. legally by presenting passports, birth certificates, or other documents of legal residency.
And Oregon needed to do something (as do most States): keeping voter records up to date and adding to them is expensive. A 2008 study showed that Oregon spends $4.11 per active voter to maintain current records and $7.67 per new voter to add records. The total bill to Oregon taxpayers was almost $9.0 million. Given that information, automatic registration more than pencils out; it creates a voter registration system that is easier for citizens, less costly to taxpayers, and less prone to inaccuracies.
So, apparently our CTO's position in his recent blog post, about how technically simple it is to link voter records and DMV records is right. At least Oregon must believe so, because that is exactly what they are doing: information the DMV has on file such as residential information, signature, and citizenship status, will be digitally transmitted to the State secretary's office, which will then automatically update the voter registration database... just like John explains can be done.
Implementing automatic registration in Oregon was easier than elsewhere because:
- Voter registration and DMV systems are already integrated due to the presence of online voter registration, so "enabling the data flow" as John or Greg would say, in the "reverse direction" (as John describes in his posting about this) was not technically difficult; and
- As an all Vote-By-Mail State, there is little if any financial hardship in requiring counties to send mail-in ballots to this new pool of registrants; it would be part of any incremental growth (and as members of the OSET Foundation team who reside there will attest--Oregon is growing; fast.)
Although I remain largely behind the scenes of the OSET Foundation handling legal affairs as General Counsel, I have a keen interest in election law and policy (and its intersection with technology). So, from time to time I drop in to offer a comment. Automatic voter registration and the new Oregon law was a perfect opportunity to speak up.
Christine M. Santoro, Esq.
Secretary & General Counsel, OSET Foundation