NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

Oregon changes its ballot return policy to match Washington’s more voter-friendly laws

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.”

Hur­rah!

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.

Repub­li­cans opposed the bill when it came up for a floor vote in the Ore­gon Leg­is­la­ture, base­less­ly argu­ing that it would make fraud eas­i­er.

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.

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