“Phase one” of Motor Voter, which registered just the people who had new DMV contact starting January 1, 2016, showed that of those who chose to join a party a majority opted for the Democratic Party. It was thought by some that Motor Voter would be a boon to the Democrats and the data foretold a coming Democratic super majority.
Then “phase two” of motor voter started. In phase two, the Secretary of State went back to 2014 DMV contacts and registered those people as well. Phase two statistics came out this week and they showed that the Republican Party outpaced the Democrats in new motor voter membership.
Of course, only 18,230 of the 206,554 new motor voters (or 8.8%) joined a party anyway, but assuming those that didn’t join a party are either not going to vote, or are fairly represented politically with those that did affiliate with a political party, will motor voter make fundamental changes in Oregon’s political landscape? The answer is no. At least not as between the Democratic and Republican balance (or imbalance) of power.
There is evidence that more voters are opting for the Independent Party or minor political parties. But it’s not a groundswell yet. And there’s no way of knowing if there is an actual groundswell of voters who are going to opt out of party membership, or if the number of non affiliated voters is simply a function of motor voter having separated the act of registration from the act of selecting a political party.
The raw data doesn’t tell us a lot about trends, since it only includes voters who registered with a party under motor voter. And because of the way motor voter works, many more voters remain NAV. Clearly using the pre motor voter and post motor voter NAV numbers is very misleading.
So, In order to normalize the percentages, I went back to pre motor voter registration records and found that the “average” percentage of voters under our old system who chose to remain NAV was 23.4%. Therefore I included an additional 23.4% as NAV’s to accurately reflect that historical average. And here is what we find.
If there is a trend, it’s that the Democratic party is still slightly weakened, and the Independent Party is growing in strength. As a percentage motor voter shows a 30% growth in affiliation for the Independent Party (from 4.9% to 6.4%). However, that rate of growth isn’t reflected in the statewide statistics, since so many motor voters are being registered NAV it will dilute all parties market shares. And the Democratic weakness in new motor voters is likely being offset by the influx of voters who wanted to participate in the historic May Democratic Primary and the November general elections.
Here are the main impacts motor voter will have on voting
More people will be able to vote. We’ll see how many of the phase two motor voters will actually vote in November, but few would argue that having more people vote is a bad thing.
Membership in political parties will plummet over time. Because motor voter divorces the act of registration from the act of selecting party membership, after this historic election, it seems pretty clear that all political parties will shrink in size.
The Independent Party is likely to revert to minor party status after 2020 and some minor parties may be dissolved by State action. Minor and major party status is based in whole or in part on what percentage of total voters a political party represents. With motor voter causing 90% of voters to register as NAV, largely due to separating registration from party selection, we’re going to see total voters spike, and party membership plummet. With 200,000 new motor voters, the IPO would have had to gain 10,000 new members to retain it’s 5% share and major party status. Over the past two months, the IPO has gained less than 1,000 new members. Even though as you can see in the tables above, it’s actually growing at a faster rate as a share of total party voters than the Democratic and Republican Parties.
But here’s the biggest problem. Motor voter will cause a crisis in Oregon Democracy.
Many voters already feel that the political elite don’t listen to them. Now with motor voter reducing the Democratic and Republican membership to their more vocal and active partisans, Oregon’s closed primary system, and safe Democratic and Republican districts, we’re going to have fewer and fewer voters actually deciding our legislative races. And those that remain in the major parties and vote in the partisan primaries are going to more and more consist of the Party’s financial base and the most politically orthodox.
While such a system works in favor of insiders, the financial base, and those already elected to office, it doesn’t lead to faith in our election system.