Oregon becomes first state to automatically enroll voters

The law shifts burden of voter registration from voters to the state.

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Gov. Kate Brown signed into law Monday legislation that would shift the burden of voter registration from the citizens to the state.

Oregon is the first state to adopt such a measure, the Associated Press reports.

Under the legislation, every adult citizen in Oregon who has interacted with the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division since 2013 but hasn’t registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. The measure is expected to add about 300,000 new voters to the rolls.

“It just changes expectations for who’s responsible for making elections work,” said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and director of the Elections Research Center. “In every other state it’s the responsibility for the voters to make sure it happens.”

Similar legislation failed in Minnesota in 2009 when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the measure. Conservative lawmakers in Oregon echoed their party’s concerns about automatic registration.

“Simply because it makes us unique or makes us first does not necessarily mean that it actually improves on what we’re doing,” Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem) said.

Brown lauded the bill as she was signing it into law, the Portland Tribune reports.

Brown says the bill completes the work launched by Del Riley, the clerk in Linn County where mail balloting originated in Oregon in 1981. “He had a vision to make voting as convenient and as accessible as possible by putting a ballot in the hands of every eligible Oregonian through vote by mail,” Brown said before she signed the bill. “This bill is about making government work better, treating citizens as customers, and giving them access to the service they expect.” …

“There is no excuse anymore for somebody not being able to vote,” says Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum. D-Portland, co-floor manager for the bill in the Senate.

Five weeks into the legislative session, House Speaker Tina Kotek said that the Oregon Legislature is trying to “get back to a normal pace,” reports the Register-Guard.

Among the top issues that lawmakers will be debating in weeks and months to come: an education budget for public schools and universities, a series of bills geared to help low-income workers, the implementation of legal marijuana, and a funding package for transportation projects across the state.

Another issue facing the legislature is a bill that calls for an end to logging of the Elliott State Forest.

The bill would create a system to protect state trust land, the Portland Tribune reports.

Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, is the chief sponsor of House Bill 3474 to create a trust lands transfer commission similar to a system in Washington. It was introduced March 2 and is at the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water. Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, was drafting similar legislation and the legislators are now coordinating on the issue. Protecting the Elliott State Forest would be a big win for conservationists.

“It’s really been a primary conservation campaign for us for 10 years,” said Josh Laughlin, interim executive director of Cascadia Wildlands.

READ MORE: Revenge Forestry — A flare-up in the Elliott Forest raises questions about détente in Oregon’s timber wars.


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