Let Oregon know where you stand: vote

Oregonians can be justifiably proud of our voter turnout.

Just look at 2008, when 85.7 percent of Oregon's registered voters cast ballots, the third best turnout in state history and one of the highest in the nation. When Oregonians register, they vote because they love vote-by-mail. Oregon has highest turnout of states that don't have same-day voter registration.

But we lag in one very important area when it comes to voting. We can do a better job of getting eligible voters registered.

The importance of this issue isn't months or years away. Two referenda will be on the Jan. 26 ballot in a special statewide election. The questions before voters this January — whether to enact or reject laws adopted by the legislature — are worthy of careful study and consideration, and I hope all eligible Oregonians will make their voices heard.

But you have to register in order to vote, and the deadline to register for the Jan. 26 election is Jan. 5. It's coming right up.

There are lots of ways to register. You can fill out a form at your county elections office. You can find a form at the Elections Division Web site, Oregonvotes.org. Fill it out and mail it in. You can even register if you're only 17, although you won't actually receive a ballot until after you turn 18.

Only 77 percent of Oregon's eligible voters are registered, leaving a half million of us with no voice in the workings of the state. I am committed to finding more and better ways to register eligible Oregon voters safely and securely and encouraging them to vote.

The 2009 Legislature got us off to a good start by passing a bill that will expand registration while ensuring its security.

On March 1, 2010, Oregon will join the small handful of states allowing online voter registration. It will be accurate, secure and cost-effective, and I'm sure it will prove popular with voters.

This will help Oregonians who are housebound and can't get out to register, members of the military overseas, and young people, who spend so much of their lives in the digital world. Arizona saw its cost per registration transaction drop enormously through the online system. Washington has enrolled hundreds of thousands of voters online with high voter satisfaction and no resulting problems. Utah initiated a similar program earlier this year.

Voters will have to swear that the information in the application is true, just like with a print application. And just like with a print application, lying online about residency, citizenship or any other qualifications is a class C felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison, a $125,000 fine and deportation for violators.

The Pew Center on the States recently completed a study of Oregon's voter registration system and found that the system cost more than $9.7 million in 2008. The study looked at printing, maintenance and, the biggest cost, personnel to operate a system based on printed forms.

Online registration won't be Oregon's first step in modernizing the system and probably won't be the last. Oregon voters can already check their registration status online, make sure their registration is up to date and find out if they're registered in a political party holding a primary election. (Go to Oregonvotes.org and click on "Voter Registration.") Making these functions available online saves staff time.

Oregonians deserve a registration system that is efficient, cost-effective and accurate — that's what I will work to deliver. I'll explore every opportunity for more savings, efficiencies and ways to modernize and streamline voter registration in Oregon.

And don't forget, the deadline to register to take part in the Jan. 26 election is Jan. 5. Let Oregon know where you stand.

Kate Brown is Oregon's Secretary of State.

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