Every state should do what Oregon did to get voters to turn out. It worked, big time.

A magical thing happens when registering to vote becomes easier — or, if you can even imagine, effortless.

Case in point: Oregon.

Image via iStock.


In 2015, Oregon passed a law utilizing the state's DMV to significantly increase the number of people registered to vote.

Under the new provision, any Oregonian who interacts with the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (to, say, get a new driver's license) sees their information automatically sent to the secretary of state's elections division, registering them as a voter.

A resident would need to opt out — not opt in — to the voter registration process.

Photo by Don Ryan/AP.

As The New York Times reported in December, the new law was deemed a big success shortly after the 2016 election as more than 225,000 Oregonians became new registrants through the DMV (not too shabby for a state of about 4 million).

Now, a new report from the Alliance for Youth Action is pinpointing who, exactly, headed to the polls in Oregon during the election.

Of all the states, Oregon saw the largest spike in voter turnout among young people and people of color between the last two presidential elections. It shows the automatic voter registration law did precisely what it was intended to do: help boost turnout, particularly among demographic groups that needed it most.

Millennials — who tend to move around more often than their parents (which complicates their voter registration process) — and people of color — who face obstacles, often politically-motivated, that suppress their vote — generally lag behind other groups in terms of election day turnout.

57% of people ages 18 through 29 voted in the 2016 election — up from just 37% in 2012, according to the report from the Alliance for Youth Action. And a whopping 79% of people of color voted last November — up from 53% in 2012.

Those figures mark impressive 20% and 26% swings, respectively.

"The state already had one of the highest turnout rates in the country, and now it’s building an ever stronger voter base," Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, told HuffPost. "This is definitely the direction in which the country needs to go: amplifying all eligible voices to create a democracy that accounts for all."

Efforts to pass automatic voter registration laws, like the one in Oregon, are cropping up across the country. But so, too, are laws quietly intending to do just the opposite.

States like California, Vermont, West Virginia, and Connecticut have followed in Oregon's footsteps, implementing similar measures to simplify the voter registration process for constituents. Many other states, usually controlled by Republican legislatures, have moved in the opposite direction in recent years, passing laws that further crack down on who can vote and when they can do it.  

Photo by Don Ryan/AP.

Laws that require a voter to show up to the polls with a valid photo ID have been touted by Republicans as a means to stomp out voter fraud. But voter fraud isn't a widespread problem, research has found, and the restriction disproportionately prevents people of color from voting — a group that, conveniently enough, tends to vote blue.

Other states have limited early voting as well — a move that, again, affects non-white voters to a larger degree.

"Access to the ballot matters," Sarah Audelo, executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action, noted to HuffPost. "As a country, we should be taking a hard look at ourselves to see what are we doing to make sure that our people are able to vote, that they’re able to participate in our democracy."

Because, as Oregon showed us, our democracy works better when more of us are at the table.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Photo courtesy of John Scully

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"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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