PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A bill sitting in the Oregon House is aiming to extend automatic voter registration through the Oregon Health Authority.
Under the bill, those who are enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan who are eligible but unregistered to vote will automatically be registered.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, about 200,000 (6%) of Oregonians are eligible but unregistered to vote. Of the 200,000, Fagan says 171,000 are enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan.
The Oregon Health Authority’s role
In an interview with KOIN.com, Secretary Fagan explained that the Oregon Health Authority’s role under this bill would be data sharing — providing the secretary’s office with Oregon Health Plan enrollee information including name, age, residence and electronic signature (if available), for unregistered but eligible voters.
The bill states the authority cannot give the secretary’s office any electronic records indicating that a person is not a U.S. citizen.
“It would essentially be data sharing, exactly like the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles,” Secretary Fagan said. “Essentially, they have information, when we know based on certain categories, that someone is eligible to vote – again, age, citizenship status and residency. Then they would transfer on a certain regular schedule.”
The secretary’s office would be tasked with creating the schedule for OHA to send the data.
When asked if Oregonians can trust their data will be safe as it’s transferred between agencies, Fagan told KOIN.com “Oregonians can trust their data will be safe. We work very closely with all 36 county election officials.”
In a statement, the Oregon Health Authority says it does not have a position on the pending legislation.
In written testimony during the bill’s Feb. 14 Rules Committee hearing, OHA noted it is required, along with the Oregon Department of Human Services, to receive “explicit permission from applicants and beneficiaries to use their individual confidential data for purposes other than obtaining and accessing medical assistance.”
OHA’s testimony went on to say, “the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) have not yet issued guidance to states related to sharing Medicaid data for the purpose of expanding automatic voter registration.”
In written testimony, the Oregon Association of County Clerks noted challenges in “stable data transfers between the SOS and DMV.” The group, which is neutral on the bill, said it’s hopeful about the Oregon centralized voter registration database replacement project with phase one of completion in summer 2023.
When asked about OACC’s testimony, Fagan told KOIN 6 News there were concerns about the predictability of when the data would be sent from other agencies and was not a security breach concern.
After the data is shared, eligible voters will receive a letter in the mail giving them an option to opt out of being automatically registered with a 21-day deadline. Those who are automatically registered will be registered as non-affiliated voters but will be given information on how to adopt a political party, the bill states.
Oregon Health Plan demographics
Fagan says the bill does not target a specific demographic of voters and is more focused on registering those who are eligible.
The secretary’s office says based on data provided by OHA, of the 171,000 eligible but unregistered voters on the Oregon Health Plan, 89,763 (52.49%) are white, 21,946 (12.83%) are Hispanic/Latino and 32,215 (18.84%) did not answer.
Additionally, 6,737 (3.94%) are Asian, 6,576 (3.85%) are Black and 6,082 (3.56%) are American Indian or Alaskan Native.
The data further identifies 5,242 people (3.07%) under “other categories,” along with 1,786 (1.04%) as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 654 (0.38%) as Middle Eastern or North African.
In terms of age, a majority of the 171,000 Oregonians are younger.
Based on the data provided by OHA, 53,241 (31.13%) are between 18-24; 36,809 (21.53%) are 25-34 and 37,083 (21.69%) are 35-49. Further, the data says 28,446 (16.63%) are 50-64 and 15,422 (9.02%) are 65 and up.
“We can always do better”
A vote-by-mail state, Oregon led the nation in voter turnout in 2022. Fagan credits Oregon for being “as low-barrier as possible for people to register to vote when they’re eligible.”
As of 2022, about 94% of eligible Oregonians are registered to vote, according to the secretary.
“We can always do better,” Fagan said. “It wasn’t 100% yet. We did not lead the nation with 100% of eligible voters turning in their ballot and I won’t stop.”
She went on to say, “our democracy works better when more people participate. Our democracy is based on the idea of consenting to be governed.”
In its written testimony, OHA noted “HB 2107 would provide additional supports including ease of registering to vote and eliminating any potential barriers to aging populations who may no longer drive, people with disabilities, younger populations, rural communities, economically disadvantaged populations, and others.”
According to the Secretary of State’s office, Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland and Delaware have passed Medicaid-based automatic voter registration. With passage of HB 2107, Fagan said she would work with other secretaries of state to get federal approval.
Lewis & Clark College Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Ellen Seljan told KOIN 6 News that as other states have authorized their health programs to enact automatic voter registration, they have been slow to implement because of “bureaucratic hurdles.”
“A fair number of states have authorized their health programs to enact automatic voter registration. However, they’ve really been actually quite slow to implement because there’s kind of a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to get over. So, Oregon, if they pass this bill, could be one of the first ones to actually kind of get it going and actually register people through this mechanism,” Seljan said.
The professor says she does not have concerns about the bill but notes there could be some difficulty obtaining signatures of the potential voters.
“A lot of people, when they’re enrolling in Medicaid, they’re not necessarily doing it in a physical office the way that you are at the DMV and so capturing people’s signatures, figuring out a good system whereby you could get a good signature of people is another problem,” Seljan said.
Seljan added that HB 2107 could be an effective way to increase voter registration and turnout.
“I’ve done research that showed that automatic voter registration does work. It not only gets people registered, but there is some proportion of those people who would not register by any other means who do go out to vote because they were registered through this method. So, I think it’s an effective way of both increasing registration and increasing turnout,” Seljan said.
Initially, the bill would have created a pilot project at the Powder Creek Correctional Facility to provide adults released from custody an updated ID card and an opportunity to register to vote.
An amendment to this provision was proposed, according to the secretary’s office, and the pilot was deemed as no longer needed as the Department of Corrections and the Department of Motor Vehicles are already providing updated ID’s and voter registration.
Where does HB 2107 stand?
HB 2107 currently sits in the House and was slated for a Rules Committee work session on April 13; however, the session was canceled. If passed, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2027, according to OHA testimony.
Secretary Fagan is confident the bill will pass during the 2023 legislative session.
“This is not a partisan bill, this is a pro-democracy bill and I have confidence in Oregon legislature being a pro-democracy legislature and passing it this session,” Fagan said.
“The more people who participate, the more people who then have ownership of our democracy and our democracy better reflects the priorities of Oregonians. Because if more Oregonians are voting, on both policies and on candidates, then those people are gonna be accountable to more Oregonians as more Oregonians vote.”