Newly minted Oregon Governor Kate Brown kicked her administration off with a bang on March 16, signing a motor-voter bill on steroids into law.
The law is good policy and will remove some considerable hurdles to voting for a large number of people. However, it does leave out potential voters and may not in itself increase voter turnout all that much.
The bill makes voting registration automatic for any eligible potential voter existing in the Oregon State Department of Motor Vehicles database. This feature goes far beyond current federal requirements, which only make it mandatory to allow an eligible resident to register to vote while obtaining a driver's license or conducting business at a state DMV. According to Reuters, the bill could expand registration by 300,000 voters – an increase of about 13.7 percent over the most recent voter roll.
That’s good news and brings Oregon’s policies much more in line with most other industrialized democracies, which automatically register voters whenever they move. Coincidentally, most of those countries traditionally have had higher turnout than the United States. Better yet is that these policies will automatically keep track of people who tend to move around a lot and who have their registration fall through the cracks, like younger people – particularly students – and working families.
But the law doesn’t cover everyone. People without driver’s licenses (who often will not be in the DMV’s files) likely won’t be automatically registered; and those individuals tend to be disproportionately poor and people of color as we know from the battles over voter ID in numerous states.
Additionally, political science strongly suggests that easing barriers to voter registration doesn’t necessarily increase voter turnout. Candidates and parties still have to give people a reason to vote and activelywork to effectively mobilize and get them to the polls.
So raise two-and-a-half cheers for Oregon making it easier to participate in the democratic process. Now progressives just have to make it worth the new voters’ time to actually, you know, vote.