Three months ago, Oregon appeared to be on the cusp of passing one of the most innovative, progressive voting laws in the country. Now, thanks to one Democratic senator, that legislation is dead.
In April, Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) introduced a proposal to make it easier for Oregonians to cast a ballot by automatically registering citizens to vote. No one would be forced to vote, but automatic registration would allow residents who forgot or were unable to register to still cast a ballot if they so desired. In addition, citizens’ voter registration file would be automatically updated if they were to move.
The bill had passed the state House last month, but died in the Senate on Sunday on a tied 15–15 vote. (The final count was 14–16, but only after the Democratic Senate Majority Leader switched her vote to a “no” for procedural reasons that would allow Democrats to revive the bill.) Democrats control the chamber by a slim 16–14 margin, but a single Democrat, Sen. Betsy Johnson, joined 14 Republicans to vote against HB 3521.
Johnson opposed the bill because she felt that Oregon’s two-step voting process — first you register to vote, then you actually vote — wasn’t “unduly burdensome,” saying that people need to “take personal responsibility for registering.”
Currently, there are more than 600,000 Oregonians who are eligible to vote but aren’t registered. Unless Democrats can convince Johnson to support the bill, most of those citizens will continue not to be registered.