Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Bill Would Allow 16-Year-Olds To Register To Vote

Kevin Mooney
Northwest News Network

Sixteen-year-olds could register to vote under a bill being considered by Oregon lawmakers, but they wouldn't be allowed to actually vote until after they turn 18. Right now 17-year-olds can register to vote in Oregon.

Supporters of the measure say many teens would automatically be ready to vote as adults because they’d be registered when they get their driver’s license.

Harrison Schreiber, a junior at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, told members of the Oregon Senate's Rules Committee Monday that the bill would make teens care more about public affairs.

"Giving 16-year-olds the ability to pre-register allows an even younger subset of the population to begin thinking about what ideals and issues matter to them,” he said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 states already allow 16-year-olds to register to vote.

The committee also heard testimony on a measure that would require county elections offices to include pre-paid envelopes so that voters could return their ballots without purchasing a stamp. The cost of the measure is unknown, since many voters would likely continue to use ballot drop-off sites, which don't require postage.

One of the bill's sponsors, Democratic Sen. Richard Devlin of Tualatin, said that people just aren't accustomed to buying stamps anymore.

"The reality is putting something in the mail is becoming and rarer and rarer occurrence," he said.

Senate Republican leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day questioned the need for the measure.

"I just have trouble believing that if somebody is a registered voter that during the three week period between the ballot drop and the time that they are required to return their ballot that they wouldn't have an occasion to encounter any reasonable access point for postage," Ferrioli said.

Charlie Fisher of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, or OSPIRG, was one of several advocates to testify in favor of the measure.

"Anything that can be done to expand people's access and broaden participation and lower barriers for people to exercise that right is one that should be applauded," he said.

Similar measures have been introduced in the past with little success.