Oregon's innovative Motor Voter law, given its first real test drive this election, is an example of creative thinking that solves a real democratic problem. Given its initial success, we also believe Motor Voter can be tweaked to make it even better.
The state already allows everyone to vote by mail, a rarity in the country, and state legislators passed a measure in 2015 to automatically register residents through the Department of Motor Vehicles unless they specifically opt out.
Creating even greater equal access is an area where the Motor Voter program can be improved. Oregonians who are registered through Motor Voter are automatically classified as nonaffiliated/other until they return a follow-up postcard from the state and re-register with a party affiliation. To date, 272,702 people have been registered through Motor Voter, and of those, 78 percent have remained nonaffiliated/other. Where the problem arises is that by remaining unaffiliated, those new voters are locked out of voting in partisan primary elections because of Oregon's closed primary system, and for practical purposes because of the demographic makeup of Oregon's state and county voting districts, many of the seats are decided in the primaries and are not contested in the general election.
Additionally, research shows that unaffiliated voters in Oregon account for 34 percent of the state's electorate, and that percentage has been trending upward for four decades. If the trend continues, unaffiliated voters will outnumber either Democrats or Republicans, which means fewer voters — rather than more voters — will be filling out ballots in those primaries and will have a potentially disproportionate influence on the outcome.
Greater efforts need to be made either at the initial registration point or in the follow-up to reach unaffiliated voters so that the closed primary system and the Motor Voter registration system are working in sync for all elections rather than just the general election. Another possible alternative is changing the primary system from closed to open primaries. State lawmakers should study both options and work to get the most inclusive result.
Oregon had 97,000 new voters cast ballots in the general election this year, about 44 percent of those registered through the new law. That's a lot of people newly enfranchised in a cornerstone of our democracy.
The Daily Astorian
Rent control not an answer for housing shortage
Oregon's housing shortage cuts across economic lines in many ways, but it can be those at the lower end of the economic scale who suffer most when there's not enough housing to go around.
That reality helps explain why state Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland and speaker of the state House of Representatives, is pushing to have the Legislature enact a "rent stabilization" — rent control — bill when it meets this year.
Yet if Kotek and others who think rent control will actually improve the state's housing problems did even the most rudimentary homework, they'd discover how destructive the policy could be.
Among rent control's problems: It tends to drive money out of the rental housing market. If a builder cannot charge what he believes his building is worth, he'll put his money elsewhere. That's true for even expensive buildings that are not subject to rent control laws. There, economists note, potential landlords worry that someday controls will apply to them, too, and so go elsewhere.
Owners of existing buildings, meanwhile, can find themselves with repairs and maintenance needs they cannot afford to pay for, meaning the quality of rent-controlled housing declines. Rent controls have proven themselves an effective way to lower the quality of the housing to which they're applied.
Rent control also holds landlords responsible for Oregon's affordable housing challenges. That's just not fair. Depending on how rent control is structured, it can also help people who don't need help.
Rent control does not increase the supply of housing. It's likely to discourage new housing to correct the housing problem.
The Bend Bulletin