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State on track to register drivers to vote

SALEM — Oregonians who get their first driver's license or renew an existing one next year will automatically be registered to vote.

Officials from the secretary of state's office said Monday that they're ready to begin implementing a law approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

Beginning Jan. 1, people who are issued a driver's license, are U.S. citizens and are old enough to vote will receive a postcard in the mail that lets them choose to join a political party or opt out of registration.

If they don't opt out within three weeks, they'll automatically join the voter rolls and will receive a ballot in the next election.

"Oregon is once again a national leader in elections," said Jim Williams, the state elections director. "Just as we were the first state to make voting easier with vote by mail, now we're making voter registration easier as well."

State officials estimate they'll process about 10,000 people per month, but say it's impossible to know how many will opt out.

People who are already registered will see changes as well. If they move and change the address on their driver's license, their voter registration will automatically be updated.

Officials are not yet ready to go back and register the roughly 275,000 people who have recently been issued a driver's license but aren't registered. That will be a separate project after the May primary, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said.

State officials say they've gone to great lengths to ensure the data is secure when it's being transferred between the DMV, state election officials and county election offices.

"We concentrated on that from the very beginning — data security, both in transit and at rest," said Shamus Hannan, who oversaw the development of the technical infrastructure.

It will still be possible for voters to register through the existing methods, a paper or online application. Those methods would likely be faster, so they may be preferred by people getting a driver's license close to the registration deadline ahead of an election.