Elections, Government, Salem

Legislative news brief: Bill would put same-day voter registration on the ballot

The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley

A bill being considered by the Legislative Assembly proposes an amendment to the Oregon Constitution allowing state residents to register to vote the same day as a general election.

HJR 11 would allow people 18 years old or older who are state residents to register to vote for candidates for nomination or election for president and vice president of the U.S. as late as 8:00 p.m. the day of the election. Currently, the deadline to register to vote is 21 days before election day.

Registrants still would be required to live in the state for six months prior to that election. College students still may register to vote as long as they change their residency to the address where they live while in school and give up voter registration in their home state.

If the Legislature passes the bill it will appear as a ballot resolution in the next regular general election.

More than two dozen parties submitted testimony to the House Committee on Rules in advance of a hearing that has been postponed. Janice Dysinger, on behalf of Oregonians for Fair Elections, a political action committee whose goal is to promote election integrity, according to its website, submitted testimony that says HJR 11 would “blur the line between registration and voting.”

“We are opposed to same-day voter registration,” Dysinger’s testimony says. “This only confuses the process for an orderly election. (Election offices are) already busy with processing the ballots on election day. We need to have the universe of voters already established in advance of election day to verify the voters’ qualifications.”

The League of Women Voters of Oregon (LWV) submitted testimony supporting HJR 11, saying the LWV continues to support shortening the period between registration and voting or same-day voter registration. 

LWV’s testimony also says historical perspective is important when considering the bill. Oregon allowed voter registration up to and on election day through 1984. During that same election cycle, the Rajneeshees, a religious sect that purchased land and moved hundreds of people onto it in Wasco County, wanted to incorporate their 64,229-acre site, but the state Land Use Board of Appeals ruled in 1983 that incorporation was invalid because no studies were conducted considering the effects a new city would have on the county. Their building permits also were denied.

The Rajneeshees decided to “take over the vote” by installing two sympathetic county commissioners who would approve their building codes and permits. The group also decided to decrease opposition voting by poisoning those voters, which they tried to do at 10 salad bars in The Dalles, causing 751 people to suffer from salmonella. They also bussed in more than 2,300 transients who promised voting support in exchange for care by the Rajneeshees. 

That move triggered then-Secretary of State Norma Paulus to invoke an emergency 20-day Oregon residency requirement rule for voters. And in 1986, Measure 13 passed, despite opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and other groups, imposing a 20-day ban on voter registration, which the Bend Bulletin in 2020 said “didn’t make for great election law,” LWV’s testimony said. 

“The League now supports and celebrates Oregon’s automatic voter registration, vote by mail with prepaid return envelopes, secure hand-marked paper ballots, and risk-limiting audits,” the testimony says. “Our main barrier to the ideal, top election ranking is the voter suppression period of barred voter registration. The League supports same-day voter registration.”

About 20 individuals also submitted testimony for HJR 11 to the House Rules Committee.

That individual, Cheryl Conway, a freelance writer from Astoria, wrote that the proposal addresses important accessibility issues.

“Registration and voting on the same day would be more convenient for people to vote, especially for voters living far from the county clerk office or who have very limited access to transportation,” Conway’s testimony says. “Because Oregon has motor-voter automatic registration and online registration, there are only a few voters who need to register on election day in a given year, and fewer as time goes on. The small burden on the clerk’s office does not outweigh the right to vote.”

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