On his namesake podcast, the well-known journalist Ezra Klein recently posed a question to Georgia-based voting rights crusader Stacey Abrams: “What would a system that wanted people to vote look like?”
Abrams offered a one-word answer: “Oregon.”
And now Oregon Gov. Kate Brown wants to make the state’s system even more user-friendly.
In her proposed $25.6 billion budget for 2021-2023, released Tuesday and marking the traditional starting point for negotiations with the Oregon Legislature, she’s thrown her support behind key changes to how Oregonians vote.
If Brown gets her way, the state would:
- Allow ballots to be postmarked up to Election Day and still be counted. Currently, there is a cut-off date several days in advance of the election, after which Oregonians are told to bring ballots to drop boxes or elections offices to ensure that they will be counted.
- Institute same-day voter registration, which is already in place in nearly two dozen other states. Currently, the cut-off date is 21 days before an election.
- Pay for more ballot box infrastructure statewide. Particularly in this year’s election cycle, with questions about the efficacy of the U.S. Postal Service, ballot drop boxes were critical to the election. In sprawling, enormous Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott caused a stir this fall by mandating only one ballot drop box site per county; Brown would take things in the other directions by adding more locations.
- Expand its “motor voter” program, which automatically registers voters when they visit the DMV. Under Brown’s proposal, other state agencies would also be able to process voter registrations.
Oregon already has one of the country’s highest voter turnout figures. The Oregon Secretary of State’s office reports that 2,413,914 ballots were received in the 2020 election—nearly 82 percent of all registered voters.
Other key components of Brown’s budget include cuts to health care providers and the closure of three minimum security prisons, while funding levels for K-12 schools hold relatively steady. One particular looming budget fight could be with hospitals, already stressed under the burden of caring for COVID-19 patients. Brown is calling for smaller reimbursements to health care providers to make up for budget gaps.
“Cuts of this magnitude could force hospitals to reduce services to Oregonians during a pandemic. These cuts cannot be justified,” said Becky Hultberg, President and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, in a statement released Tuesday.