As of 2012, there were approximately 51 million qualified, yet unregistered citizens who could vote in America. This past week, Oregon took drastic measures to make the process as simple as possible in hopes of drastically increasing voter participation. Governor Kate Brown signed House Bill 2177 into law that automatically registers someone to vote when they receive or renew their license or identification card, according to the Oregon State Legislature. People will be given a three-week window to remove themselves from the process, should they choose to. The information provided from the DMV will be sent to the Secretary of State’s office in order to initiate the registration.
While the concept is revolutionary for America, it is surprising that it took so long to be adopted. It seems a no-brainer that the right to vote should come automatically with being a citizen and require minimal effort. People may be unaware of how to register, or just don’t care enough to figure it out. If it slips someone’s mind and Election Day rolls around, it’s too late unless they are in one of the 10 states offering same day registration. No American should lose their say due to a technicality. By obtaining a license, you are already providing the necessary information: legal name, residency, citizenship information, and an electronic signature. The bill dictates that this is all that is needed for the state to approve voting registration. Even more convenient, Oregon will automatically send out a ballot to each registered voter 20 days before any election. This is expected to cut Oregon’s non-registered voter number in half.
Interestingly, not a single Republican voted in favor for the bill in either of the state Legislature chambers, according to The Huffington Post. The argument was that it invades privacy and puts victims of domestic violence at risk if it were hacked, since a home address and phone number are part of the information provided. However, people in favor of the bill insist there are provisions in place for those situations and the information will not be made public. In addition, if there is the option to opt out, this problem seems to fix itself.
Every state should look to Oregon’s new voting system for guidance. While there is no ensuring how the new law will be taken or play out, there seems to be far more benefits than drawbacks. Voting should be as simple as possible as long as it is safe and effective. Unnecessary and increasing restrictions supported by Republicans are some of the basic reasons people don’t make it to the polls. A prime example of this is voter ID laws, which sought to stop impersonators from voting. Now implemented in 31 states, the law really has little purpose since, according to The Washington Post, it wasn’t a major problem to begin with, let alone enough to truly impact the outcome. Oregon’s system should actually help identity verification automatically, which is why it is even more surprising there was so much opposition from the right wing. Many Republicans have also been in favor of closing off early voting, according to The Atlantic, creating yet more excessive limitations.
All these laws seem to create an extensive maze just to complicate the basic right of voting. It is clearly an attempt to limit the voting pool, and the low voting percentages indicate it has been remarkably successful. In the 2014 midterm elections, only 36.4 percent of those eligible to vote participated, according to The Washington Post. This isn’t a result of not caring, but rather an overarching feeling of insignificance. The irony is that those who feel this way are in the majority and could drastically alter the outcome of elections.
In the state of Florida, college students are able to register as residents despite the location of parents or if they intend to stay here after school. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University calculated that about half of citizens in America ages 18-29 voted in the 2008 elections. As young adults, we are actively advocating our ideas and getting involved in causes we value. Since we have so newly gained the right to vote in both state and federal elections, I feel that this percentage should be much higher. While the influence of voting registration has not yet been determined, it could not hurt to simplify the process. If anyone, college students should care about the leaders of our country, since we soon will have to venture into the daunting “real world.”
In addition, early voting has been available in Florida since 2004, and if an ID is forgotten, a provisional ballot can be entered. Similar to Oregon, it is a closed primary state. While Florida’s voting laws are not necessarily the most rigid, they could be improved upon. Personally, I had no idea how to register until I went on the site and saw that there is an online form that can be filled out. Only when sought out are questions about voting registration discussed. This implies that voting is a privilege rather than a right, which is the opposite of what it should be.
Voter registration is just as politicized as any other part of government. For now, Oregon has made the most progress of all the states in correcting the problem. It is surely within our reach to make voting as simple as possible while maintaining a safe and secure system. It sounds so simple; once a citizen, you automatically are registered to vote. I struggle to see how it is problematic and controversial. Just because someone does not want to go through a complicated registration process does not make their vote any less valuable. Loopholes and regulations only hinder the kind of democracy America prides itself on.
Marisa Nobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.