Even though Shemia Fagan is leaving her position as secretary of state, her legislative priority will continue. Fagan had a bill to automatically register citizens who sign up for Oregon Health Plan, the state’s subsidized health insurance for low-income Oregonians, as voters approved by the Oregon House on Wednesday, May 3.
Despite opposition from Republicans who are wary of the idea and claim that it is contaminated because of its link to Fagan, House Bill 2107 was approved with a 34-25 party-line vote. A Republican lawmaker from Malin, E. Werner Reschke, expressed skepticism about the measure since it bore Fagan’s name and was introduced while she was under investigation.
Democrats, who have made expanding voter registration and reducing restrictions on voting a priority for a long time, said Fagan’s participation was irrelevant to the bill’s content. On Tuesday, May 02, House Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, said, “The policy in the bill is sound and has been vetted for over two years.”
One of Oregon’s forerunner election rules would be expanded under HB 2107. The state passed a “motor voter” legislation in 2016, making it the first in the country to automatically register residents to vote whenever they engage with the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services department.
Instead of requiring citizens to “opt-in” to voter registration, as would be the case with an “opt-in” policy, Oregon implemented an “opt-out” scheme, automatically registering citizens to vote unless they specifically opt-out.
Voter turnout in Oregon rose once the plan was implemented. In the most recent national election, 61.5% of eligible voters cast ballots in this state. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 22 states and the District of Columbia now use motor voters. However, Oregon has recently slipped behind other states in voter registration.
“I was at a conference last year, and there was a presentation on automatic voter registration,” Fahey said in an interview last month. “For the first time ever, Oregon was not listed as the people leading the way on this. The people from Nevada got, like, a standing ovation.”
The Oregon Health Plan, HB 2107, would align Oregon with Nevada and Colorado by extending opt-out registration to Oregon’s Medicaid program. The Office of the Secretary of State reports that similar policies have been implemented in other states.
Oregon Health Plan participants are not automatically registered as new voters. Colorado has been waiting for the federal government’s approval to share health records for years. Bill 2107 would delay the start of automated registrations via the Oregon Health Authority until 2026.
According to estimates from the Oregon Secretary of State, there are over 200,000 Oregonians who are eligible to vote but need to register. Earlier this year, Fagan estimated that 171,000 (or 85%) of those persons are enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan.
In a March interview, she said that anybody who had engaged with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) when Oregon motor voter entered force would be automatically registered. The reason they need to be written is unknown to us.
Those 171,000 unregistered voters raised obvious red flags for Republicans. Committee Republicans asked the Oregon Health Authority for a breakdown of where these persons resided but were informed they would not be provided.
Republicans in Colorado’s legislature have expressed worry that voter registration drives facilitated by Medicaid might provide an unfair advantage to Democrats. Some Republicans have also voiced concerns that the bill could undermine voter confidence in the state’s electoral system.
Voters in Oregon must have a signature on file with their county elections office so that their ballot envelope signature may be verified. It’s vital to the state’s mail-based voting process’s safety. The lack of signatures is not an issue with DMV registrations since signatures are provided when an ID is obtained.
The Oregon Health Plan is different. The state may have to register individuals without a valid signature if HB 2107 is enacted. According to statements by Fagan and Fahey, voters whose signatures are not on file will be denied the right to vote. It is unclear how the administration plans to implement this.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions about this bill,” said R-Amity state representative Anna Scharf during Wednesday’s vote. Currently, “it is not ready.”
Republicans also argued that registering in Oregon is already straightforward, saying anyone who wants to vote can do so easily. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink,” said state Rep. Emily McIntire, R-Eaglepoint. “I feel like we do everything in this state to make sure we have the utmost ability to make sure people have everything they need.”
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Fahey, one of the few Democrats to weigh in on the plan on Wednesday, said the Republican opposition was overreacting. There are “some today who have suggested that the integrity of our election system is in question,” she remarked.
I want to deny that claim categorically. The truth is that every part of our voting and registration process is protected. Now that the House has passed HB 2107, the Senate will face a Republican walkout over the Democrats’ agenda.
It’s part of Fagan’s more significant legislative push that includes other measures. Last month, the Senate unanimously approved a measure she presented to strengthen election security and reduce intimidation of poll workers.