Secretary of state ready to kick off new registration plan Jan. 1

SALEM — Oregon is on track to launch its automatic voter registration system in January, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said Monday.

Under the new law, people who are eligible to vote will be registered after they obtain or renew their driver’s licenses, permits or identification cards. Oregon is the first state to enact an automatic voter registration law, and the legislation was a top priority for Gov. Kate Brown dating back to when she was secretary of state.

Atkins said during a Dec. 21 press briefing that people outside of Oregon are watching to see how the new system unfolds.

“We’ll probably see the nation paying attention, in addition to Oregonians paying attention,” Atkins said. “We’ve been very pleased with the work that’s been done so far and our ability to run end to end tests here in December.”

State officials expect the new system will add approximately 10,000 voters to the rolls each month starting in January. The secretary of state will also use Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division data to register people who obtained or renewed their driver’s licenses, permits or identification cards over the last two years, agency spokeswoman Molly Woon wrote in an email. This provision could add as many as 275,000 voters to the rolls, Atkins said. However, the state will not implement that portion of the law until after the May primary.

It’s less clear how many people will opt out of voter registration.

The DMV will only send data to the Elections Division for people who have demonstrated, through documents shared with the DMV, that they are eligible to vote. This means Oregon residents who are U.S. Citizens and at least 17 years old. The Elections Division will send mailers to people identified as eligible, giving them 21 days to opt out of registration or to register with a political party. If people do nothing, the state will register them as unaffiliated voters.

Once a citizen opts out of automatic voter registration, the Elections Division will not contact the person in the future when he or she renews a drivers license or updates an address at the DMV. The other voter registration options will still be available, including registering to vote online and at the DMV.

“How many people will say ‘no thank you’ is a little bit of an unknown,” Atkins said.

People exempt from the automatic registration process include certain law enforcement and other individuals who have signed up through the state to keep their addresses confidential for personal safety reasons, according to the state’s new voter registration manual.

The law goes into effect Jan. 1, when the DMV will be closed for the holiday. As a result, the first people to be affected by the law will those who obtain driver’s licenses or update their addresses Jan. 4. These people will begin to receive mailers from the state sometime after Jan. 5, when state elections workers will begin to send out the materials.

The new law also affects people who update their addresses through the DMV, although they will not be registered to vote. Instead, the Elections Division will send the updated addresses to county clerks so they can update the information of existing registered voters.

Shamus Hannan, an application development manager in the Secretary of State’s office who has overseen the project, said the state did not create it from scratch. Instead, the automatic registration program built upon Oregon’s existing system of data sharing between the DMV and the Elections Division which the state uses for functions including online voter registration. The program is expected to cost approximately $753,000 during the current two-year budget, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

It’s “a variation on a theme, rather than something completely new for us,” Hannan said. “Currently, we are in final testing of the application with our partners from all the other agencies, including the counties.”

Hillary Borrud is a reporter with the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau in Salem.

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