FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2016, file photo, Dennis Richardson, the Oregon Republican Secretary of state candidate, waves to the crowd during an election night event at the Salem Convention Center in Salem, Ore. Richardson has announced the "first of its kind pilot program" for Oregon to use Facebook to contact inactive voters to remind them to update their registration. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez, File)

Oregon using Facebook to remind inactive voters to register

September 18, 2018 - 4:12 pm

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — In this era of manipulators using social media to interfere in elections, Oregon officials moved Tuesday to use Facebook to bolster participation by reminding as many as hundreds of thousands of inactive voters to update their registration.

"Utilizing cutting-edge technologies to empower eligible voters isn't just something we can do — it's something we must do if we're serious about outreach," Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson said in announcing what he called the first-of-its-kind program.

The initiative comes as Facebook tries to recover from a privacy scandal in which a political consulting firm with ties to President Donald Trump improperly accessed the data of tens millions of Facebook users.

In addition, California-based Facebook stepped up policing of its social network after authorities said Russian agents ran political influence operations on its platform aimed at swaying the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook applauded the Oregon initiative.

"We're glad the Oregon Secretary of State's office is able to use Facebook to help reach inactive voters and let them know how they can cast a ballot this fall," said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman.

Oregonians can become inactive voters after being mailed a ballot or other election material that is returned as undeliverable; not voting or registering in 10 years or as few as five years in some counties; if their ballot has been challenged; or if they're imprisoned on a felony conviction.

Under Oregon law, the right to vote is restored upon release from incarceration. Oregonians receive ballots by mail and can either mail them back completed or deposit them in drop boxes.

Richardson's chief of staff Deb Royal said the inactive voter list was cross-referenced with Facebook users who are Oregon residents.

"Facebook users who meet those two criteria will see the placement," Royal said in an email. Oregon has 447,000 inactive voters, Royal said.

Having inactive status means a person is still registered to vote but won't receive a ballot unless he or she provides a county with updated registration information to return their registration status to active. An inactive-status voter can also complete an online voter registration form at OregonVotes.gov to become active again.

As of August, 2.7 million people were registered to vote in Oregon— a 3 percent increase over 2017, according to elections division statistics. Oregon's total population is around 4.1 million.

The video outreach features Richardson speaking directly to voters who have been listed as inactive, encouraging them to update their registration to receive a ballot in the mail. A link will be included for voters to take care of their registration, Royal said.

"Recent digital advances have created voter outreach opportunities never previously imagined," Richardson said. A Republican, he holds the second-highest state office, second only to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in this predominantly blue state.

The outreach will run until the voter registration deadline on Oct. 16, his office said.

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