A harsh, contentious election cycle is bound to create apathy in a vast swath of the United States population. For many Americans, apathy ends with the convenient excuse heard around water coolers the day after election day: “I forgot to register.” On March 15, 2015, Oregon became the first state in the country to take that excuse away from its residents with its new Motor Voter Act.
Oregon’s Motor Voter Act automatically registers Oregonians as voters whenever they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) to apply for, renew, or replace an Oregon drivers’ license, ID card, or permit. Oregon’s goal was to increase voter turnout. Voter registration has a high correlation with voter turnout in the United States. While only 53.6% of the voting age population voted in the 2012 presidential election, 84.3% of registered voters voted in that same election. Furthermore, approximately one quarter of eligible American voters—51 million Americans—are not registered to vote. Therefore, Oregon saw an opportunity and sought out a plan to increase voter turnout, and its plan was simple: eliminate barriers to increase turnout.
This article will discuss the details and merits of Oregon’s automatic voter registration program. Essentially, this article poses and answers one basic question: How far should a government go to encourage its citizens to vote? It will also prescribe a solution to improve voter turnout on a state-by-state level and on a federal level by encouraging Americans to lobby and write to their state and federal legislatures and to push for ballot initiatives on a state level.