Oregon is touted as the easiest place in America to vote. When asked, "What would a system that wanted people to vote look like?" Stacey Abrams replied, "Oregon." Voting in Oregon is easy, transparent and even safe during a pandemic. Right?
Oregon residents who are U.S. citizens can register to vote at age 16 to get their first ballot at age 18; can get registered through an automatic process after a visit to the DMV; and then for every election are mailed a ballot to their home.
But what if you are experiencing homelessness or housing instability? If you do not have a stable home address, you are dramatically less likely to receive a ballot and subsequently vote in elections.
Our state remains a shining example to the rest of the country for voting accessibility.
In the words of President Biden, "The right to vote freely. The right to vote fairly. The right to have your vote counted" has been a reality for Oregonians for more than two decades.
Despite the fact that ease of voting is an assumption for most Oregonians, "vote at home" is not so easy for underrepresented communities that struggle with economic inequality, housing instability and homelessness.
It is harder to vote when experiencing poverty. The average American moves once every five years. Economic inequality forces families to move more often. Looking at U.S. Census data, geographic mobility directly correlates to poverty: The more people move, the more likely they are to live below the poverty line.
Low-income families "are forced by urgent crises to choose the safest, most convenient locations necessary for immediate survival rather than take the time to find neighborhoods with great schools and job opportunities," according to recent research by S. DeLuca at Johns Hopkins University. The more often you move, the harder it is to ensure that your ballot will find you, and the harder it becomes to choose leaders and make decisions on your ballot that will empower communities.
Housing instability and homelessness present significant obstacles to voting. Yes, you do have the right to vote if you are experiencing homelessness, but it is significantly more difficult to exercise that right. The eviction crisis and continuing affordable housing emergency in Oregon only amplify the obstacles to voting for the most vulnerable communities.
We can begin to address these obstacles to voter registration with tangible actions:
• Create more opportunities for automatic voter registration in addition to the DMV such as hunting licenses, social services and community college admissions.
• Create a program that encourages property managers to include a voter registration opportunity as part of the lease signing process.
• Support culturally responsive organizations that can connect communities to voter registration and participation.
• Support social and nonprofit organizations that provide direct services to families in poverty and people experiencing homelessness in voter registration and ballot access.
• Embrace the improvements to voter access that HB 3291 (Election Day postmarked ballots) will bring to Oregon
• Pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, on the national level so that the rest of the country can vote like Oregon does.
Improving voter registration accessibility, accuracy and accountability will encourage voter participation across diverse communities, leading to increased opportunities for individual and community success, and in turn more responsive public decision-making.
Catherine McMullen is a candidate for Clackamas County clerk, a position responsible for administering elections in the county.
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