The United States has two kinds of elections officials. One kind worries that the wrong people might vote. The other kind believes it’s their responsibility to ensure that every qualified voter can exercise the franchise. Oregon, thankfully, has a chief elections officer of the second type.
The distinction was made clear Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a voting-rights case from Ohio. That state’s rules require that if a voter hasn’t cast a ballot for two years, a postage-paid card is sent to the voter’s address. If the card is not returned, the voter’s name is purged from the rolls after four more years without “voter activity.” Ohio’s rule was challenged as being in conflict with federal law, and on grounds that it disproportionately affected low-income and minority voters. The court ruled 5-4 in Ohio’s favor.
Oregon has a law allowing a similar purging mechanism. Voters may become “inactive” and be removed from the rolls if they do not return a ballot or update their registration after “a period of not less than five years.” The law had long been read to mean that inactive voters should be purged after five years. Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, however, last year extended the period to 10 years, and will ask the 2019 Legislature to end the practice of purging inactive voters altogether.
People don’t vote for a variety of reasons, Richardson notes — they join the military, go to college or are uninspired by the choices on the ballot. But when people who are properly registered decide they want to vote, nothing should stand in their way. In this and other matters relating to voter rights, Oregon is moving in the right direction.