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Oregon lawmakers mull bill to put race on voter registration

March 5, 2021 GMT

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — State lawmakers in Oregon are considering a bill that would give residents the option of providing their racial identity, ethnicity and language preference when registering to vote.

Those backing the measure say the publicly available data would allow for stronger engagement with voters of color and would make it easier for state and local elections officials to address racial inequity in voting access, the Statesman Journal reported Friday.

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“Right now, because we do not collect this data, we do not have a clear picture of how well voting populations across the state are served by the systems that we have,” said Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, the chief sponsor of House Bill 2745 during its first public hearing Thursday.

Similar data is already collected in fields including education and health care to improve outcomes in different demographic groups, and the same should be done for the state’s elections, Pham said.

Providing demographic information would be voluntary. Oregonians currently have four ways to register to vote, and the bill would require that the option of providing race, ethnicity, and preferred language information be available in each manner.

Eight states already collect similar data via voter registration.

During a committee hearing, House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, questioned the need for the information to be public if the intent is to simply study participation. No one spoke in opposition of the bill during testimony or public comment Thursday.

“So, is this a (get out the vote) bill for targeting minority populations? What are we going for here? Are we trying to turn out voters?” Drazan asked, according to the newspaper.

Pham, a former community organizer, said the goal would be to make sure potential voters in underserved communities know what they’re voting on, especially in their own language. The bill would dovetail with another before state lawmakers that would require voter pamphlets to be translated into four or five of the most spoken non-English languages in the state.

Michelle Hicks, of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, noted that the state has consistently been on the leading edge of voter access issues, including passing automatic voter registration and vote by mail.

This proposal is in-line with that history, she said.

“By allowing more Oregonians to self-identify, we’re able to further empower the state and community-led organizations to connect with voters in a deeper and more meaningful way,” Hicks said.

Additional action on the bill has not yet been scheduled.