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VRM in the States: Oregon

Oregon was the first state in the country to approve automatic voter registration.

Last Updated: February 9, 2021
Published: March 1, 2018

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 across the nation. 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.
  • Preregis­tra­tion: 16– and 17-year-olds can preregister to vote. Those who preregister can vote once they turn 18 without need­ing to re-register. 

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 225,000 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 2014 and Novem­ber 2016, the state received 94,086 new voter regis­tra­tion applic­a­tions through its online portal.