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Oregon Elections Officials Restore A Postal Subsidy For Newly Registered Voters

<p>Oregon voters drop off ballots on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Portland, Oregon.</p>

Nate Sjol

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Oregon voters drop off ballots on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Portland, Oregon.

Oregon election officials say they are restoring an obscure – but potentially important – piece of the state’s pioneering automatic voter registration system.

The state elections division says it will once again send out prepaid postage return envelopes to Oregonians who are automatically registered to vote when they get a driver’s license or conduct other business through the state DMV.

That makes it easier for new registrants to affiliate with a political party or opt out of being a registered voter at all.

Deputy Secretary of State Rich Vial said the elections division restored the use of the envelopes after being assured by legislative budget leaders that they would find the $75,000 necessary to provide prepaid postage.

The Legislature earlier this year cut $75,000 out of the budget for automatic voter registration, although there was little discussion at the time of exactly how that would affect the program.

That led to complaints from several activist groups, including Next Up, a group that promotes voter participation and was formerly known as the Bus Project.

“We were concerned that it would impact the integrity of the system we created with automatic voter registration,” said Samantha Gladu, Next Up’s executive director.

Next Up joined with two other activist groups, Causa and the Asian Pacific American Network in Oregon, to send a letter to the elections division saying that postage costs “are a real barrier to voting,” as shown by the Legislature’s decision this year to provide prepaid postage for voters casting ballots by mail.

The groups also warned that if voters potentially had to pay 55 cents in postage to return a form to register within a party, that could run afoul of federal law. They noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can’t charge a processing fee for registering, including in party primaries.

Oregon voters can also register with a political party online.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.