Oregon’s presidential primary is tomorrow, but the bigger story is how many new voters there are in the state.
More than 100,000 new voters have registered so far in 2016, over half through the state’s new automatic voter registration system. The 51,558 voters signed up through automatic registration is an average of 12,889 new voters per month, three times higher than the average of 4,163 monthly registrants in 2012.
“It looks like it’s going to be a big success,” says Nikki Fisher, executive director of The Bus Project, which helped conceive of the program. The number of voters registered has been higher than initial projections and half of new registrants are under 35. “All indications are that new people are being brought into the system,” Fisher says.
This year Oregon became the first state to automatically register eligible citizens who request or renew a driver’s license through the DMV. They are sent a card informing them of their registration status and have 21 days to opt out from the voting rolls. The burden of registration shifts from the individual to the state. Only 6 percent of registrants have chosen to opt out, “a ratio of nearly 15 eligible citizens added to the voting rolls for every 1 person who declined,” reports Liz Kennedy of the Center for American Progress. (However, three-quarters of registrants declined to identify with a political party and unfortunately won’t be able to vote in tomorrow’s closed primaries.)
Oregon’s registration system should be a model for the rest of the country. Three other states—California, Vermont, and West Virginia—have passed automatic registration laws this year and 28 states are considering the reform, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.