Oregon Secretary of State Fagan lays out legislative agenda

Fagan’s seeking more funding for election oversight and to expand automatic voter registration

By: - January 12, 2023 3:45 pm

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan shows her “Vote” tattoo before ending candidate filing for the primary election on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan is seeking to expand automatic voter registration to returning prisoners and Medicaid recipients, along with more funding to oversee elections and respond to records requests. 

Fagan laid out her legislative agenda in a letter to lawmakers and a press conference Thursday morning. She’s also seeking millions of dollars to hire new staff to investigate election law complaints and begin replacing the state’s outdated campaign finance database, ORESTAR. 

“Now is the time to reinforce what works well in Oregon elections, while investing to make needed improvements before the 2024 election,” Fagan said.

She said her office will oppose proposed legislation that would restrict voting access, including a bill introduced by a trio of House Republicans that would require all voters to vote in-person on Election Day unless they request a ballot by mail at least 21 days before the election. House Republicans also sponsored two more bills to require that mailed ballots be received by county election officials on Election Day. Ballots that were postmarked on or before Election Day but arrive within the following week are now counted. 

Legislative Republicans have introduced at least three additional bills to move voters to “inactive” status or remove them from voter rolls entirely if they miss elections or don’t update their addresses every two years, which would prevent those voters from receiving ballots in the mail. 

“In many parts of the country, the right to vote is actually under attack, and we’re not immune to this here in Oregon,” Fagan said.  

She’s spearheading a bill that would help an estimated 171,000 Oregonians who receive insurance through the Oregon Health Plan and are not registered to vote be registered automatically. The state’s motor voter law, which took effect in 2016, automatically registers Oregonians to vote when they obtain or renew driver’s licenses or nonoperating IDs from the Oregon Department of Transportation. 

More than 800,000 voters have been added to state voter rolls since then, and more than 93% of people eligible to vote in Oregon are registered. People covered by the Oregon Health Plan already provide their addresses, signatures and last four digits of their Social Security numbers, information that can be used to register to vote. 

The bill would also establish a pilot program at the Powder Creek Correctional Facility to ensure prisoners receive an updated state identification card and are registered to vote when they complete their sentences. People convicted of felonies lose their voting rights while serving their sentences – though legislative Democrats have once again proposed a bill to allow people to vote while incarcerated. 

Fagan said she’s also asking legislators to make sure her office has the staff and tools needed to implement campaign finance reform. 

Oregon is now one of the only states with no limits on campaign contributions, and legislative leaders have said they intend to pursue caps on campaign contributions and greater transparency around campaign spending. If the Legislature doesn’t take action this year, citizen groups plan to put campaign finance reform before voters on the November 2024 ballot. 

Fagan killed a similar effort from good government groups to put measures on the 2022 ballot over a technical error: The proposed initiatives didn’t include the entire text of state laws they would have amended. 

Fagan said she personally supports campaign finance reform, and she also supports what lawmakers refer to as “small donor” PACs, such as political action committees affiliated with labor unions. 

“Fundamentally, one person writing a million-dollar check out of their personal checking account is different than a million people giving $1 to a small donor PAC,” Fagan said. “But I want to be crystal clear that whatever the Legislature passes is what I’m going to implement with excellence on behalf of Oregon voters.”

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway is the Capital Chronicle's deputy editor and lead political reporter. Before joining the Capital Chronicle in 2021, she was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix and reported on local and state government and politics in Iowa, Nebraska and Bend. An award-winning journalist, Julia also serves as president of the Oregon Legislative Correspondents Association, or Capitol press corps.