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Expert Brief

Update: Oregon Keeps Adding New Voters at Torrid Pace

The full impact of automatic registration will have to wait until after the election, but it is becoming more and more clear: Oregon is the Usain Bolt of voter registration.

  • Jonathan Brater
Published: August 19, 2016

In Janu­ary, Oregon became the first state in the coun­try to imple­ment auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (AVR). The state changed voter regis­tra­tion at its Divi­sion of Motor Vehicles from an “opt in” to an “opt out” — a subtle change, but one with the poten­tial to make a huge impact. Accord­ing to recent data, that is exactly what is happen­ing: AVR is nearly quad­rupling the rate of new regis­tra­tions at the DMV, and has already increased the regis­tra­tion rate by nearly 10 percent­age points, account­ing for popu­la­tion growth. Although an analysis of the full impact of auto­matic regis­tra­tion will have to wait until after the elec­tion, it is becom­ing more and more clear: Oregon is the Usain Bolt of voter regis­tra­tion.

This year, Oregon has been releas­ing monthly data from “Oregon Motor Voter” — the state’s AVR program. With several months of data now on hand, there is substan­tial evid­ence that Oregon is regis­ter­ing new voters at a massively increased pace, and that increase held steady through­out the course of the year.

Oregon repor­ted, based on trans­ac­tions through July 31, the state has added 222,197 new voters through AVR. Of those, 95,605 were registered based on new inter­ac­tions at the DMV that occurred between Janu­ary 1 through July 31. The other 126,592 were added in a “look­back” at those who visited the DMV in 2014 and 2015 and did not register (more on that later). The 95,605 voters were added over the course of 130 busi­ness days, which means Oregon is adding per 15,433 per month, or 735 per busi­ness day. These figures are consist­ent with past find­ings.

The numbers also mean Oregon is continu­ing to signi­fic­antly outpace its previ­ous rate of new regis­tra­tions at the DMVs. In the 2008 elec­tion cycle, Oregon repor­ted to the Elec­tion Assist­ance Commis­sion that it registered 101,159 voters at the DMV — a prorated total of 4,215 per month. In 2010, Oregon added 3,397 per month, and as we repor­ted earlier, in 2012 and 2014, Oregon added 4,163 and 3,955 per month, respect­ively. Thus, Oregon is continu­ing to achieve an approx­im­ately 4-fold increase in new DMV regis­tra­tions compared to past cycles.

But there are even further gains.  Oregon’s voter rolls also got a major shot in the arm from “Phase II” of AVR, in which the state registered voters who visited the DMV in 2014 and 2015. Through that aspect of the program, Oregon has added another 126,592 voters to the rolls — for a total of 222,197 new registered voter­s—and that is only through the end of July.

Look­ing at the monthly regis­tra­tion totals since AVR was imple­men­ted in 2016 suggest that it is making a big differ­ence.  Since the start of the year, the estim­ated regis­tra­tion rate (calcu­lated by divid­ing the regis­tra­tion totals by the Census’s most recent estim­ate of Oregon’s citizen voting age popu­la­tion of 2,830,525) has increased from approx­im­ately 77 percent to approx­im­ately 86 percent — a 9 point increase. In prior months, the regis­tra­tion rate had stayed flat:

Month

Registered Voters

Estim­ated Regis­tra­tion Rate

Septem­ber 2015

2,173,964

76.8%

Octo­ber 2015

2,176,450

76.9%

Novem­ber 2015

2,168,381

76.6%

Decem­ber 2015

2,169,258

76.6%

Janu­ary 2016

2,183,167

77.1%

Febru­ary 2016

2,209,217

78.0%

March 2016

2,243,077

79.2%

April 2016

2,298,420

81.2%

May 2016

2,309,829

81.6%

June 2016

2,323,847

82.1%

July 2016

2,434,581

86.0%

 

Moreover, the number of month-by-month regis­trants is increas­ing dramat­ic­ally in 2016 compared to the number of regis­trants (and estim­ated regis­tra­tion rate, calcu­lated by divid­ing the regis­tra­tion totals by the Census’s  2012 estim­ate of Oregon’s citizen voting age popu­la­tion, 2,806,000) the same period in the 2012 elec­tion cycle. This strongly suggests the increase in regis­tra­tions is not attrib­ut­able solely to the upcom­ing elec­tion — AVR is bring­ing in new voters who would not be registered other­wise.

Month

Registered Voters

Estim­ated Regis­tra­tion Rate

Septem­ber 2011*:

2,034,589

72.5%

March 2012

2,051,857

73.1%

April 2012

2,062,051

73.5%

May 2012

2,049,834

73.1%

June 2012

2,056,197

73.3%

July 2012

2,070,470

73.8%

*Because of redis­trict­ing, Oregon did not report total registered voters from Octo­ber 2011 through Febru­ary 2012.

Compared to July 2012, Oregon has 364,111 more registered voters in July 2016, with most of these gains coming in the last few months. Although other factors, such as popu­la­tion growth, partially account for this increase, it is very likely auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion had a lot to do with it. The new registered voters repres­ent a 17.6 percent increase from the 2012 figure. By compar­ison, accord­ing to census data, Oregon’s over­all popu­la­tion increased by only 197,904 – 5.2 percent – between 2010 and 2015. Mean­while, the citizen voting age popu­la­tion increased by approx­im­ately 24,000 between the Census’s 2012 estim­ate and its most recent estim­ate.

Only a few months into imple­ment­a­tion, auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion is already making a big differ­ence in Oregon. While other states are drag­ging their feet on voting rules, Oregon is racing ahead. 

(Photo: Think­stock)