Beginning next year, voters in the Beaver State who wish to use the United States Postal Service to return their ballots will no longer have to worry about ensuring that their ballot reaches election officials by the deadline to return ballots. That’s because Oregon Governor Kate Brown just signed into law House Bill 3291, authorizing elected officials to accept ballots that are postmarked by Election Day.
Voters to the north, in Washington State, have long enjoyed the freedom to vote late and still use the Postal Service to return their ballot, because ballots that arrive after Election Day are still legally cast votes under Washington State law. To count, they just need to be postmarked no later than the last day of the three week voting window and received before the election is certified.
More than a dozen other states around the country have embraced Washington’s voter-friendly approach for acceptance of ballots that were voted at home.
Oregon, on the other hand, has long required ballots to be in elected officials’ custody by the time that voting ends. Now, Oregon is changing course and following Washington’s lead. That’s a positive development for our region!
As the Democratic Party of Oregon (DPO) said in an email to its supporters today: “This is great news for increasing voter access and participation!”
“It also means no more confusion about when you can put your ballot into a mailbox in time for it to arrive at an elections office by Election Day. Now, so long as you drop your ballot in your mailbox by Election Day and it is received no later than seven days after an election, it will be accepted.”
Many years ago, Sam Reed and The Seattle Times proposed doing away with Washington’s voter-friendly ballot return policy and adopting Oregon’s policy. Thankfully, the Legislature didn’t listen to them. And now, the opposite has happened: Oregon legislators have come to their senses and made returning a ballot easier. This is a lovely win for democracy and ballot access.
It won’t, of course, and it’s rare that anyone tries to vote fraudulently. There are almost no known instances of voting fraud anywhere in this country.
The cases we do know of have generally involved people aligned with Republican candidates and causes who are desperate to win at any cost.
Perhaps that’s why some Republicans think about “voter fraud” so much — because they assume their opponents are just as willing to cheat as they are.
One Democratic senator also expressed concerns, saying: “I reluctantly voted for this today… My concern is, in close races … that delaying the returns for a week or two afterward will undermine faith in the system. I hope I’m wrong.”
That senator was Lee Beyer, D‑Springfield.
You don’t have to worry, Senator Beyer. Returns in Oregon will not be delayed as a result of this new law. Some ballots might be counted later on in the process than they would have before, but that won’t delay the work of counting ballots. More importantly, other ballots that would have been voided merely because they didn’t get delivered back to officials by Election Day will now be counted!
Washington State has accepted ballots postmarked through Election Day for years, and we usually have a pretty good idea of who won on Election Night.
Even when we don’t, due to close margins, it rarely takes longer than a few days to be able to project with confidence who will win in a given race.
The exceptions would be super tight races in which only a handful of votes separate the candidates. But super tight races don’t benefit from the system Oregon just abandoned because the result can’t be known until the ballots are recounted. And a proper recount can only begin when the initial count is done.
It also isn’t necessary to require ballots to be in elected officials’ custody by Election Day in order to count them quickly. The speed at which ballots are counted is driven by logistical constraints and elections officials’ resource availability, not hoops placed in front of voters. Again, what’s important is doing everything possible to ensure that every vote is counted. The more barriers we can eliminate to voting, the healthier our democracy will be.