Knocking down barriers to vote in Oregon

by Rachel Rye Butler

February 26, 2015

Concerned Oregonians and Washingtonians paddle in Bradbury Slough off the main stem of the Columbia River, near Mayger, Oregon, Oct. 20, 2012, to draw attention to the dangers of Ambre Energy's Morrow Pacific coal export proposal. Thousands of citizens are calling on Oregon Governor Kitzahaber to deny Ambre's plan to turn a cherished public resource, the Columbia River Gorge, into a dirty coal chute, and convert Bradbury Slough from important juvenile salmon habitat into a coal barge parking lot.

Adam Mills Elliott/Greenpeace

UPDATE 03/05/15:The OregonState Senate has just passed the New Motor Voter Bill, which will now be sent to Governor Kate Brown’s desk to be signed into law. This is a huge win for we the people, our democracy and our climate. Its often those most at risk from pollution that are most likely to have their voices and their votes suppressed. Meanwhile fossil fuel companies use their billions to make sure politics favors the polluters. More representative elections in Oregon means a chance to reset the balance.

Unlike many states which are facing ALEC and Koch-tied attacks on voting rights– voter ID bills being a prime example of how special interests are working to disenfranchise Americans and make it harder for our voices to be heard– in the next week, Oregon is poised to take a step in the right direction, removing hurdles for people to exercise their right to vote. Should it pass, this is a win for democracy, for the people of Oregon, and for the climate.

In a nutshell, Oregons state legislature is considering an upgrade to its voter registration system that would register people who are eligible to vote (unless they choose to opt out) using data that Oregon already collects and verifies when people get a drivers license or other ID at the Department of Motor Vehicles– without requiring any additional steps.

Under this bill, by using state-of-the-art technology, Oregon would verify voter eligibility and attempt to put a ballot in the hand of every eligible voter (unless, of course, they don’t want one), removing hurdles to registration, streamlining government, saving money, and in the process, make Oregon’s voter registration rate the highest in the nation. The bill is expected to get a voteas soon as next week.

This is a big deal for two reasons:

1. In a change from the current system, where an individual has to jump through additional (and unnecessary) hoops to be able to exercise the right to vote, this bill flips the script.

Oregon would take steps to ensure that people are able to exercise their right to vote by removing hurdles to registration.This means that more people are able to have their voice heard through our fundamental right to vote. Its estimated that 300,000 people who are eligible voters but arent currently registered would be able to cast a ballot in Oregon due to this change.

2. Knocking down barriers for individuals to exercise their right to vote is a good thing for people power and a good thing for the climate.

Often, its those most at risk from pollution that are most likely to have their voices and their votes suppressed. This is certainly the case in states that are fighting voter ID laws, which make it harder for low-income communities, young people, and others to be able to vote. (For more on the links between fossil fuel polluters and voter suppression, check out Greenpeaces report on how fossil fuel billionaires like the Koch brothers are funding a war on democracy.)

So, removing barriers to being able to vote, like Oregon is poised to do next week, is a step in the right direction for a people to have their voices heard– on everything from climate and coal trains to minimum wage laws and worker protections.

In Oregon, where citizens have already fought and won victories on coal trains through their back yards, and people-powered groups like the Oregon Bus Project have worked tirelessly to bring this bill to the floor, turning this bill into law will allow even more people to have their voices heard, and make way for more people-powered victories down the road.

And thats a good thing for our democracy– and our climate.

Find out more and get involved here:The Bus Project.

Rachel Rye Butler

By Rachel Rye Butler

Rachel Rye Butler is a campaigner at Greenpeace USA

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