558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
During the last few years, several steps have been taken to increase the quantity of voters in Oregon and increase voting access to eligible citizens.
First, in 2007, legislators lowered the voter registration age from 18 to 17, while maintaining the minimum voting age of 18. This year, lawmakers are considering a bill that lowers the voter registration age to 16. In both cases, they are trying to capture more voters and get them registered.
Apparently, those efforts are not enough. Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is also sponsoring House Bill 3521, which will automatically register eligible voters once they reach the age of 18. The bill was referred to the House Rules Committee, and received a public hearing on May 8.
Under the bill, automatically-registered individuals are given the option to opt out – a reversal of the current system where people are not automatically registered and have to opt in.
This is bad legislation that has a better chance of weakening the democratic process than enhancing it.
First of all, it will leave many young citizens wide open to aggressive attempts by political parties to recruit new members. Instead of informing themselves and taking time to make a decision that reflects their views, they may end up persuaded to side with the party that presents the best, or most pushy, sales pitch.
While 18 year-olds have the right to vote, they may not have the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision regarding which, if any, party they should join.
Another concern is that an increase in registered voters adds to the election costs for counties, because they will have to print and send out more ballots. Crook County Clerk Dee Berman said such a change would cost them about $23,000.
The bill also increases the potential for voter fraud. What’s to stop an automatically-registered, yet apathetic new voter from casting their ballot on behalf of someone else? Under the vote-by-mail system, they could let someone else fill out the ballot, and then sign the envelope and return it as their own.
Lastly, voting should require some level of initiative on the part of the individual. Voters have a responsibility to be involved and make informed decisions as the choices that they make have lasting impact. We need to ask ourselves as a society, do we really want people participating in our system of government who don’t care enough about the system to go to the trouble of registering to vote on their own? We believe that the answer is no.
We encourage everyone to get involved and would hope that all eligible members of the public would choose to register and participate in the voting process. However, that is a choice that each individual should make, not something that government should foist on us.
We urge current voters to get involved and encourage their representatives to vote ‘no’ on HB 3521.