VRM in the States: Oregon
In March 2015, Oregon became the first state in the country to adopt automatic voter registration when Gov. Kate Brown signed the “New Motor Voter” bill (H.B. 2177). The law, which provides for a system of automatic voter registration at Oregon’s DMV, has spurred successful efforts in California, West Virginia, Vermont, Connecticut, and Alaska. Learn more about automatic registration here.
Oregon implemented automatic voter registration in January 2016, replacing a paper-based system with a new process in which the state identifies and adds eligible Oregonians to the rolls electronically, without the need for additional action by the voter. The system uses information the DMV already has on file—including age, residential information, and citizenship status. Individuals who interact with the DMV are sent mailers including a form they can send back either to opt-out of registration or to select a party affiliation. Those who take no action are automatically added to voter rolls without a party affiliation, but have the ability to unregister or select a party affiliation any time in the future. In June 2016, Oregon election officials additionally sent 145,455 registration mailers to eligible, unregistered Oregonians who interacted with the DMV in 2014 and 2015 before the state implemented automatic registration.
Many other states electronically transfer voter registration information from DMV offices to election officials, but Oregon is the first to make it the government’s responsibility to ensure voters are registered. The Brennan Center and others hailed the passage of the law, which received widespread national attention.
Prior Advances in Voter Registration Modernization
This reform builds upon Oregon’s existing voter registration modernization efforts:
- Online Voter Registration: Oregon launched online voter registration through the Secretary of State’s office in 2010. Eligible citizens with a state driver’s license or non-driver ID can use the system to register to vote and update their registration information.
- Portability: When a voter moves to a new county within the state, the new county accesses a statewide registration database to update that voter’s address. County election officials in the voter’s previous county are not required to take any action. In addition, registered voters whose addresses did not update when they moved can, on Election Day, update their address at a county elections office – those with active registrations are issued provisional ballots that will be counted, while individuals with inactive registrations are issued regular ballots.
Gains from Voter Registration Modernization in Oregon
The steps Oregon has taken thus far have yielded increases in voter registration and financial benefits for the state. For example:
- In the first six months, the state’s automatic voter registration program registered 206,554 Oregonians through the DMV. 80,990 individuals registered automatically when they interacted with a DMV office, and 124,912 of those who had interacted with the DMV prior to the law’s implementation were also registered. Under Oregon’s old system at the DMV, only 2,000 voters registered per month. Oregon implemented the automatic registration system using in-house resources, without spending additional funds.
- Early data from the Secretary of State’s office suggest automatic registration is having positive turnout effects. In the November 2016 general election, nearly 100,000 votes were cast out of the 230,000 who registered automatically prior to the election. Among voters affiliated with a major party, those who registered through the new system voted at similar rates as those who registered through traditional means.
- During an April 2013 interview with Brennan Center staff, election officials reported spending a tenth of the time processing online voter registration applications relative to paper forms.
- Oregon implemented online voter registration at a cost of approximately $200,000.
- Between November 2012 and November 2014, 12.5% of all new voter registration applications were received online.