The future of voter registration is here — in Oregon
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Participation in our elections is a fundamental right for citizens in our democracy. As Oregon's secretary of State, it was my obligation to ensure that all eligible citizens in the state that are members of a political party or no party at all can cast a ballot in our elections — the same obligation that all secretaries of state or commonwealth hold.

It is with this motivation that I hold up the success of Oregon Motor Voter — the first program of its kind in the country — as a model of automatic voter registration for the nation. The first year of program implementation has proven that this system is the most effective way to maintain accurate voter rolls while ensuring that only eligible voters cast ballots.

I believe that automatic voter registration is the most effective way to ensure the integrity and efficiency of our elections. Across the country, approximately one of every eight voter registrations is no longer valid or is significantly inaccurate, amounting to approximately 24 million erroneous records.

If we are serious as a country about safeguarding our election system and ensuring the integrity of our voter rolls, automatic voter registration is the way to do it.

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Oregon is one of six states and the District of Columbia to have passed automatic voter registration. These programs came into existence through bipartisan support in state legislatures like in West Virginia and through popular support in ballot measures like in Alaska. A number of other states have automated their voter systems.

 

Our success can serve as a blueprint of implementation strategy and proof to those states that have yet to legislate similar programs that this system works.

Too many states across the nation have systems similar to what we used to have in Oregon: an outdated, costly registration system that relies on data entry by hand. By manually inputting these registrations, errors can occur due to difficult-to-decipher handwriting. In Oregon, we found ourselves spending a significant amount of money sending ballots to outdated addresses because our voter rolls were not up to date.

Our modern electronic system has virtually eradicated these challenges. The entirely digitized process diminishes the potential for data entry error. In addition, the system has allowed us to update our rolls with new address and contact information for voters.

We expect to save the state money for not having to send ballots to incorrect addresses. A study of a similar program in Arizona found that outdated systems cost almost 30 times more than electronic registrations and we expect findings to be similar in our state.

Only eligible Oregonians are able to cast ballots in our elections. When updating our rolls, we only use Department Of Motor Vehicles (DMV) data for people who are specifically coded as citizens of the United States. The DMV carries out a rigorous process to verify citizenship by requiring proof of legal status — think a birth certificate or a passport — to get a license. My office takes very seriously that it is a felony to return a false ballot. Oregon Motor Voter has allowed us to be even more rigorous in our citizenship status verification.

The numbers in Oregon paint a picture of just how successful automated voter registration can be. Approximately 840,000 people were able to have their voter information either added or updated thanks to the new system. This number includes 270,000 eligible people who registered to vote and 570,000 people who had their records updated with new address information.

Out of 2.5 million registered voters in Oregon, these numbers alone are pretty impressive.

Even more impressive is that 97,000 newly registered voters participated in the 2016 general election and had their voices heard through their ballots. These voters helped us to have the greatest turnout on record in the state of Oregon. When voters are registered, they participate.

These numbers are proof that automatic voter registration is successful in turning out the highest number of eligible voters in our elections while eradicating the possibility of voter fraud.

The results so far from Oregon Motor Voter prove that the system has a number of benefits for our citizens and our government, protecting the accuracy of our voter rolls and streamlining the registration process, all the while saving taxpayers money.

Oregon's elections are now safer and more secure than ever. With national adoption of motor voter legislation, we will be able to say the same for elections across the country.

Jeanne Atkins (D) served as Oregon's secretary of state from 2015 to 2016.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.