Oregon SoS Moves to Extend Voting Status for Soon-to-be-Inactive Voters

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Oregon’s Secretary of State is moving to extend, from five to ten years, how long voters can remain on the rolls before having their status switched to inactive. The Statesman-Journal has more:

In Oregon — where its first-in-the-nation automatic-voter registration system has been hailed as a pioneer in knocking down voter-access barriers — it takes just five years of failing to participate in an election before a registered voter gets knocked from the active voter rolls and no longer receives a ballot in the mail.

Roughly 400,000 registered Oregonian voters have been flagged as inactive at some point in time, a number that this year is expected to grow by another 30,000 who registered during the 2012 general election when President Barack Obama was up for re-election.

For Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, five years isn’t long enough. So this year, he’s doubling that timeline to 10 years.

The move could affect as many as 60,000 voters:

Richardson … says that will immediately preserve the statuses of those soon-to-be-inactive voters this year. The change will also be applied retroactively, potentially reactivating another 30,000 or so currently inactive voters by leveraging DMV databases that Richardson’s agency already uses to administer the so-called Oregon Motor Voter program.

“This change will protect or restore the voting rights of Oregonians serving our country on military deployments, college students and voters frustrated with the political system,” said Richardson, who made the announcement during his first press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol in Salem.

SoS Richardson says his plan is motivated in part by the success of Oregon’s “new motor voter” automatic registration system:

Oregon’s trailblazing Motor Voter law — now replicated in a handful of other states plus Washington D.C., and a few others are currently considering following suit — has so far registered more than 314,000 Oregonians since its January 2016 inception.

Those new voters, about 12 percent of the 2.6 million registered voters statewide, and overall voter excitement during last year’s wild presidential campaign season helped push Oregon voter turnout to over 80 percent in November.

But Richardson says it doesn’t make sense to be adding thousands of new voters through Motor Voter every year, while simultaneously purging thousands from that same active-voter list because they didn’t cast a ballot for five years.

He notes that five years is the minimum amount of time for inactive voter status under state law. But there’s not a maximum, so his office plans to extend the timeline to 10 years via an administrative rule change without the need for the Legislature’s permission.

There may, however, be some partisan drama before this is through. The state Democratic Party did not attend the press conference announcing the plan, though that isn’t likely a signal that they oppose it but rather that they are loath to give credit to Richardson, the first GOP Secretary in more than 30 years.

It remains to be seen if this plan will result in any new votes; voters who haven’t participated for five (and soon ten) years aren’t necessarily going to return to voting in droves. That means county officials will be sending out more ballots to voters who may not be planning to return them. Finally, Oregon’s move is also counter to other efforts nationwide – for example, in Ohio – to ease removal of voters for inactivity. It will be interesting to see how SoS Richardson’s plan plays out in both the election and political spheres.

Still, it’s an interesting idea – and I look forward to seeing what happens as the plan moves forward. Stay tuned …

1 Comment on "Oregon SoS Moves to Extend Voting Status for Soon-to-be-Inactive Voters"

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