Oregon Prisoners Could Get the Right to Vote While Incarcerated Under New Senate Bill

Oregon would become the third state, along with Washington, D.C., to allow people to vote while incarcerated.

Oregon State Penitentiary. (Chris Nesseth)

Oregon prisoners may soon have the right to vote while they're incarcerated.

Senate Bill 571 seeks to change Oregon law so that a person who is registered to vote and is within physical custody of a jail or prison is allowed to vote "in the county of the qualified elector's last voluntary residence."

In other words, inmates' voter registration would fall under their most recent address—not the prison in which they are incarcerated.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, just two states—Maine and Vermont—allow people to vote while incarcerated. And in July 2020, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., also voted to allow people to vote from prison.

The bill seeks to allow people in prisons to register to vote while they are incarcerated, and it says that they shall receive all election materials, including ballots and Voters' Pamphlets, while they are incarcerated in order to "cast a ballot in each election."

The Senate bill has eight chief sponsors: Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas), Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), Sen. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale), Sen. Kate Lieber (D-Beaverton), Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Ashland) and Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Oswego).

Oregon has long allowed people convicted of felonies the right to vote, once they serve their prison sentences. In fact, Oregon was one of the first states to reenfranchise felons, starting in 1975, and in 2001 advocates stepped up efforts to re-register people with felony convictions.

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