- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon senators voted Thursday to send Gov. Kate Brown a bill automatically enrolling residents with driver’s license records into the state’s voter rolls, clinching a win for a measure that is part of a national push by Democrats to remove barriers to voting.

The measure, originally proposed by Brown while she was still secretary of state, would significantly restructure Oregon’s voter-registration practices and potentially add hundreds of thousands of newly registered voters to the state.

With Oregon’s all-mail elections, the automatic registration means most adult state residents would get a ballot in their mailbox unless they decide to opt out. Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, who carried the bill in the Senate, said the bill will streamline the voter registration process by eliminating redundant paperwork and removing technical barriers for voters.

Steiner Hayward dismissed concerns the legislation is part of a “secret plot” to register more Democrats.

“I care that they vote, and you should too. You should care that as many Oregonians as possible that are eligible to vote exercise that right,” Steiner Hayward said.

Lawmakers passed the bill in a 17-13 vote, with one Democrat, Betsy Johnson, crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans.

Several groups applauded the bill’s approval, including Democracy Initiative, a network of civil rights, labor and environmental organizations, and the OSPIRG Foundation, a consumer group.

People who meet the legal requirements to vote would be registered if they aren’t already. From the time they get a postcard from the secretary of state, the agency in charge of elections, saying they’ve been registered to vote, voters have 21 days to opt out, said Steiner Hayward, a Democrat from Beaverton. Residents are automatically registered as unaffiliated, but can select a political party from the postcard and return it to election officials through the mail.

Brown has said the measure could add as many as 300,000 unregistered voters to the rolls. Oregon currently has 2.2 million registered voters, and the state has among the highest voter turnouts in the nation.

Many opponents of the bill argued the proposal does little to ensure the privacy of voter’s personal information while making it easier to commit voter fraud.

“Your private property has now become public information because we want to register you to vote,” said Sen. Alan Olsen, a Republican from Canby.

Under the bill, information such as names, ages, addresses and citizenship provided to the Department of Motor Vehicles would be shared with the secretary of state’s office. Oregon drivers are required to present proof of their legal presence in the U.S., identity and date of birth, as well as proof of their address. Acceptable documents include marriage licenses, original copies of birth certificates or a U.S. passport.

Several Republicans contended the DMV doesn’t have the technology or capacity to ensure that personal information stays private. Others said smaller, rural communities would be disproportionally saddled with the additional costs of registering voters.

“What this bill will allow state government to do is cost a broke county $7,800 in the first year and $15,000 per year over the next eight years. That is money we don’t have,” said Rep. Carl Wilson, a Republican from Grants Pass during a House floor debate in February.

A nearly identical proposal failed in 2013 when Johnson again sided with Senate Republicans against the issue. The bill is among several that Democrats have pushed through at the beginning of the current legislative session, using expanded House and Senate majorities from last year’s election.

Brown said she looks “forward to signing this bill into law.”

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