State Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, believes Oregonians would be better served if they could register to vote right up through Election Day. The change, he argues, would improve voter turnout, and that’s not a bad thing.
The state constitution requires would-be voters to have registered “not less than 20 days” before the next election. They also must live in Oregon for the six months preceding the election, and Hass does not propose changing the residency requirement.
But, as Hass notes, the 20-day requirement may have made sense when it was enacted in 1986. The era of modern technology had not yet taken hold, and county clerks favored the Ballot Measure 13 that established the 20-day registration cutoff.
Voters agreed, though elected officials, the League of Women Voters and other groups all opposed it, arguing that the registration deadline would reduce voter participation in elections because fewer people would be eligible to vote. A Bend Bulletin editorial about the measure noted that in 1986, some 71,000 voters registered in the 20 days before the general election, and in 1980, more than 100,000 registered in that same time period.
Supporters of the measure argued the deadline would cut fraud and save money, and the measure passed handily.
Yet, Hass is correct in noting that technology has advanced so much since 1986 that it no longer takes 20 days to verify that those who have registered are, in fact, entitled to vote. He would let voters decide the matter, and, assuming they approved the change, he would charge the secretary of state with establishing what documentation to use to establish voter eligibility.
Hass wants to be his party’s candidate for secretary of state in 2020, and he no doubt sees changing the registration deadline as something that voters will favor. But he’s also likely right in his belief that same-day registration will get more Oregonians to the polls. It’s a change worth trying.