SALEM — Legislation aimed at adding hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Oregon failed by a single vote in the state Senate Sunday.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, joined with all 14 Republicans to defeat a bill that would automatically register eligible voters when they received new or updated drivers licenses in Oregon.

Secretary of State Kate Brown had promoted House Bill 3521 as an ambitious way to remove barriers to voting and greatly increase voting participation in the state. But critics, particularly from the Republican Party, said they feared the bill would lead to greater voter fraud in Oregon and that anyone who cared enough to vote should take personal responsibility for registering.

That latter point was crucial for Johnson, who has made it clear for several weeks that she opposes the bill, which had passed the House on a largely party-line vote.

“We ask so little of citizenship in this state and this nation,” said Johnson. “It does not seem unduly burdensome to expect someone to simply take personal responsibility for registering.”

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward, D-Portland, countered that the state should do what it can to remove as many barriers as possible to keeping otherwise eligible people from voting.

“The only purpose for registering to vote is just to determine that you meet the eligibility criteria of being a citizen,” she said, and the motor vehicles division does a good job of doing that.

Currently, about 2.2 million people are registered to vote, about 75 percent of those who meet the eligibility requirement. Brown has estimated that her proposal would have added about 500,000 people to the voting rolls.

Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, changed her vote to no when it was clear that the measure would not have enough votes, producing a final count of 14-16. Under Senate rules, that gives her the ability to try to revive the bill for another vote.

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