By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Reading politics between the lines

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It’s important to read what politicians say, but perhaps more important to read between the lines.

Oregon’s House of Representatives voted 32-28 this week for automatic voter registration, something not done in any other state. It would put ballots into the hands of hundreds of thousands of citizens who didn’t care enough to register themselves.

The vote was mostly partisan, with all but three Democrats favoring the bill, and all but one Republican in opposition. The political quotes were high-minded:

“All eligible voters — urban or rural, newly 18 or many years retired — should be able to cast a ballot on Election Day if they want to do so,” said Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland. He said the bill will “encourage engagement in our democracy and remove a barrier to voting.”

Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, disagreed. Registering to vote, she said, “should be a choice made by individuals and not by the government on their behalf … I’m especially concerned about victims of stalkers and identity thieves who have tried hard to keep their information confidential … As it is, registering to vote is a very simple process. Because of that, this bill is unnecessary and will likely cause more problems than the sponsors claim it might solve.”

On the surface, we might surmise that Democrats are for citizen participation in our democracy, while Republicans are more concerned about personal privacy and individual choice. But let’s go between the lines to what most people really believe:

As a generality, people who don’t even take responsibility to register themselves to vote are more likely to lean liberal at the polls – an assumption, no doubt, subject to debate. Thus, we see support for automatic registration primarily from Democrats, who know it will pad their voter registration advantage, particularly in large cities where they already enjoy an overwhelming edge in voting.

Oregon eliminated one barrier to voting by replacing polling places with home-delivered ballots. Current voter registration laws maintain a certain level of personal responsibility for voting rights, but that would change with approval of this bill.

The history of U.S. voting rights has been one of removing barriers for women, poor people and racial minorities. Hence, the high interest in this week’s Supreme Court decision affecting federal intervention into state voting laws.

Some will consider this Oregon proposal another step in that storied history of protecting voter rights. To me, it’s a step too far to eliminate the “barrier” of personal responsibility.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.

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