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Automatic Voter Registration: It Works in Oregon, Now the Rest of America?

by Countable | 8.24.17

What’s the story?

Statistics are now available on the success of Oregon’s Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) Program and they’re impressive. Oregon was the first state to implement an automatic registration program. Nine states have passed laws embracing AVR, 31 states are considering it, and now Congress is looking at expanding the idea across the country.

Why does it matter?

If the United States calls itself a participatory democracy, voter participation in elections should be a top priority, shouldn’t it? According to statistics highlighted by The Nation, presidential election participation has hovered between 50-65 percent of eligible voters for decades. Primary participation ranges from 25-45 percent, while participation in local elections is often even lower, sometimes as low as single digits.

That’s not a lot of participation.

Until Oregon instituted AVR in January 2016, every voter registration system in the country put the burden on the individual to initiate participation. AVR puts the burden on the government, by using standard government records to identify and register residents, who can then choose to opt out.

How does AVR work?

Demos, a public advocacy organization that compiled the statistics on AVR following the 2016 presidential election, summarized how AVR works in Oregon. Basically, it uses the Department of Motor Vehicles as the means to identify residents and contact them:

"eligible but unregistered voters found through the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) databases are notified by mail that they will be added to the voter rolls, unless they decline registration within 21 days by returning a postcard to the state’s election authorities. For purposes of primary voting, this notification postcard also allows individuals to choose a political party. If no response is given, these individuals become automatically registered as “nonaffiliated" voters, which makes them ineligible to vote in primaries (Oregon has a closed primary system). Automatic address updates and notifications also take place through this system.”

The goal of the program was not only to increase overall voter participation, but also to address historic imbalances in registrations, where minority and poor voters are consistently underrepresented.

How well did AVR work?

A significant share of AVR registered voters participated in the 2016 presidential election.

  • 44 percent of AVR registrants voted

  • 95 percent of AVR registrants who voted were first time voters

AVR got more People of Color (POC) and young people voting

  • POC were 15 percent of AVR voters, compared to 6 percent of non-AVR voters

  • 37 percent of AVR voters were between the age of 18-29, compared to 13 percent of non-AVR voters

AVR got more poor people voting

  • 39 percent of AVR voters were below the state median income, compared to 34 percent of the non-AVR electorate

Oregon already had higher than average voter turnout, but AVR increased participation in the 2016 election higher than any other state.

  • National average increase in voter participation in the 2016 presidential election was 1.6 percent

  • Oregon’s increase in participation following AVR implementation was 4 percent, from 64 to 68 percent of the eligible electorate

Only 8 percent of enrollees through the AVR program decided to opt out. But only 11 percent chose a party, so the increase in participation in primaries will be less impressive than if Oregon had open primaries.

At a time when many states are pursuing stricter voter registration laws, which have been proven to reduce electoral participation, Oregon has taken the opposite tack.

HR 2840, would amend the Voting Rights Act, to expand the Oregon model to the whole country. It was introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), and has 119 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

What do you think?

Is increasing voter participation important to you? Do you think AVR should be expanded to other states? If not, what are your concerns about this system?

Tell us in the comments and then use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Brennan Center for Justice)

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(96)
  • Heather
    08/24/2017
    ···

    As an Oregonian who has lived and voted in other states (I'm looking at you, Massachusetts) I LOVE AVR. I think what people ignore though is that one of the other reasons AVR is so successful here is that we have mail in ballots for ALL elections. Paper ballots can't be hacked and the state meticulously verifies that the person who signs the secrecy envelope is the valid registered voter the ballot was sent to. Once you remove barriers like having to register to vote, having to stand in lines during work hours, and concerns over security risk, it leaves very little in the way of an excuse not to vote. I usually vote in my pajamas with my (very thorough) voters' pamphlet and my laptop in front of me so I can do any last minute research I need to make an informed vote. By comparison, MA once denied me my right to vote because their system lost the paperwork I had submitted when I changed addresses, which I didn't know till I had stood in line already. During work hours. AVR+mail will always be my preference.

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  • TracyEckels
    08/24/2017
    ···

    I believe that AVR or Automatic Voter Registration is a good idea and should be implemented throughout the country. I also believe the we should abolish the electoral college and switch to the popular vote instead. The electoral college is vastly outdated and it has been proven that it doesn’t work. Just look at who’s in office and decide for yourself!

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  • Ron
    08/24/2017
    ···

    Good idea in theory, horrible in practice. Voting is a right of citizenship. DMV records do not make that stipulation. People move, either locally, or interstate., leading to people being registered to vote in more than one voting district. When people move, they don't always notify the DMV to correct their address. This direction does nothing for those without a drivers license. MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE IMPLEMENTATION OF AVR SHOWS THAT PHOTO IDENTIFICATION TO VOTE is practical and possible. Yes every United States citizen should be able to, and feel responsible to vote. Non-Citizens do not share this privilege.

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  • Linda
    08/24/2017
    ···

    Automatic voter registration is needed. Every vote should count. In a democracy all have the right to vote. Quit suppressing the vote through gerrymandering and unfair voter ID laws. Do away with the antiquated electoral college which silences the votes of many and has obviously failed to protect us from an incompetent authoritarian.

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  • John
    08/24/2017
    ···

    Automatic voter registration, coupled with frequent updates and reminders, is a great idea. Everyone in the great State of Texas should take advantage of their voting rights, so that politicians are accountable to all the people, not just a select few. Instead of suppressing the vote, we should all work to make voting easy and accessible for everyone.

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  • Azrael
    08/24/2017
    ···

    Make it federal Until then at least do NJ

    Like (6)
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  • Harry
    08/24/2017
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    Pennsylvania should absolutely follow the example that Oregon has adopted.

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  • James
    08/24/2017
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    Nope! Absolutely not! Must be a citizen and free of felonies!

    Like (3)
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  • Stuart
    08/24/2017
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    I am one of those Oregonian voters. While watching on TV people standing in line sometimes for hours to cast ballots in other states last election, I recalled dropping my ballot in the box on the way to work which took what, 20 extra seconds? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

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  • Deirdre
    08/24/2017
    ···

    This sounds like it works. I believe that everyone who is eligible to vote should have an easy way to do so.

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  • Mark
    08/24/2017
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    We should absolutely have automatic voter registration. The efficacy of our democracy is reliant on participation of the populace in addition to a well educated populace (ie on that doesn't believe the earth is flat, the moon landing is fake, or that climate change is a Chinese scam etc.) Anything to make voting more available to the average citizen the better.

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  • Patty
    08/24/2017
    ···

    Automatic voter registration should be implemented nationwide. We should make it as easy as possible to register and to vote. It's both our right and our duty.

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  • OWorthyFool
    08/24/2017
    ···

    Our neighbor Oregon has successfully implemented automatic voter registration. We should follow suit. The evidence in favor is overwhelming. Washington already makes voting convenient and informed via pamphlets and mail-in ballots- automatic registration is a logical next step.

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  • KansasTamale
    08/24/2017
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    Wow. What a concept!! Putting the voters first. This had to happen across the country. I live in a KoBah voter restricted state. I've voted for 50 years & was proud to walk in & sign my name & vote. That is until Kobach instituted voter restrictions which made it harder to vote. I had to show 3 pieces of identification and reregister. Then I had to stand in line while everyone's registration was scrutinized and even had to USD my Driver's license like s credit card. It was time consuming and a hassle as well as making me feel like a criminal fig wanting to vote. I SAY YES!!! TO A WONDERFUL UNITED STATES VOTING POLICY LIKE OREGON.

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  • Paul
    08/25/2017
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    Absolutely. Generations of veterans have fought and suffered to protect and preserve the right to participate in our democratic republic by exercising the right to vote. Voting is a RIGHT, not a PRIVILEGE. Any effort to make voting more difficult is unamerican voter suppression.

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  • Damon
    08/25/2017
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    I support automatic voter registration, as was implemented in Oregon. Statistics show that it works very well to increase participation in our democracy. Don't you want more people to participate in our democracy? Of course you do, because to disenfranchise voters is un-American. Please support automatic voter registration and do everything you can to encourage states to adopt it.

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  • J. scott
    08/24/2017
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    It's a great idea and long overdue. It's actually one of the key missing ingredients in the remaining development of our democracy. Its way past time we open suffrage to every American. Do not hesitate to implement this policy with all deliberate speed.

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  • Marianne
    08/24/2017
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    I support this! No public servants should fear for their jobs if they are genuinely working ethically to represent ALL of their constituents!

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  • David
    08/26/2017
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    AVR is not a good idea. We need educated and informed voters who realize how important it is to vote. Not ignorant uninformed zombies.

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  • Jeffrey
    08/24/2017
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    Hell No! I don't want anyone voting who can't be bothered t get registered. I don't even want anyone voting who can't take the time to show up over a 12 hour time span on voting day. I will make concessions for serving military, or those that are truly disabled, (not just on disability, that is not the same thing.)

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