REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
OACC Conference (Oregon Association of County Clerks)
August 18, 2020
Good morning everyone, so great to see all of you again. Of course, I wish we could have met in person. I will certainly miss hearing Steve Druckenmiller’s stories of the good ol’ days.
This is also the second time in a month I’ve been able to share a Zoom Room with the great Governor Barbara Roberts – good to see you, and hope you’re staying well.
Please know how much I appreciate the work you do every day as County Clerks to ensure that Oregonians can exercise their fundamental rights, especially during these challenging and unprecedented times.
I do want to take a moment and reflect on today being the 100th anniversary of an issue near and dear to my heart: the 19th Amendment, which granted white women the right to vote. While the rest of the country celebrates this momentous occasion, here in Oregon, we get to celebrate 108 years of women’s suffrage.
As your former Secretary of State and now as your Governor, I have worked throughout my career – with many of you – to ensure that every eligible Oregonian has access to the ballot box.
And – as the first and second women governors of Oregon – Governor Roberts and I can sit in front of you and say we are here today because of the work of Oregon suffragists like Abigail Scott Duniway, Hattie Redmond, and Dr. Esther Lovejoy.
They knew that voter access would lead us to a better world. One with more equity, integrity, and fairness.
And here in Oregon, thanks to the leadership of visionaries like Del Riley, Norma Paulis, and Phil Keisling, voting is truly part of our DNA. We were the first state in the nation to completely vote by mail.
In fact, it was Linn County clerk Del Riley whose vision it was to put a ballot in the hands of every single eligible Oregonian.
With the assistance of a few of you here, we were able to pass the nation’s first Automatic Voter Registration legislation, which fully implemented Del’s vision. Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia have followed Oregon’s example.
Thank you, thank you for taking this leap of faith with me.
Since then, we added important tools like pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. Most recently, I signed a bill that covers postage for mail-in ballots, so that it is, as it always should be, free to vote.
Thanks to these historic pieces of legislation, we have already seen monumental changes in who participates in voting here in Oregon. We have seen turnout from our communities of color increase by at least nine percentage points, even as the national average has fallen more than three points.
That’s the good news! There are certainly challenges ahead.
At a national level, this election cycle will be more challenging than any that has come before. Fortunately, in Oregon, we are better prepared than most. But I know resources at the local level are extremely tight. Many of you are doing this important work, making the most of limited resources and limited staff. I will continue to push our federal delegation and the White House to provide additional funds for state and local governments.
Over the years, we have seen Oregon’s vote-by-mail system being slowly replicated in states across the country. Now, with many states grappling with the question of how to safely conduct an election in the middle of a pandemic, elections officials are looking to us as an example.
In the middle of a pandemic, voting at a polling location poses serious health risks to voters, elections staff, and volunteers that were inconceivable just six months ago. No one, no one should have to risk their health or their life to cast their ballot. In Oregon this November, no one will face that terrible choice between caring for their health and exercising their right to vote.
While other states scramble to expand absentee voting or develop Vote By Mail systems from scratch, Oregonians can rest easy and know that their ballots will be safely counted.
When the fabric of our society is frayed due to the pandemic, the foundation of our democracy must remain strong.
We must fight tooth and nail to ensure the right to vote for every eligible American —no matter who they are or where they live, regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status. In this country, in this century, there should be no barriers standing in the way of an American’s right to vote.
I don’t need to tell those of you here today that Oregon’s most recent primary saw record turnout. Oregonians want to be part of deciding the future of our communities and our nation. We must continue to build that momentum into the 2020 general election.
Imagine if Oregon were to set another turnout record in November.
My dream is that Oregon continues to be a shining example of what it means to hold free and fair elections. Elections that are safe, secure, and open to all. Elections where every vote counts, and every voice is heard.
Just as previous generations fought to expand the right to vote, every day – through your work – each one of you is leading the way so that more states can follow our example.
Thank you for your dedication, thank you for your determination and thank you for your hard work.