Unlike much of the U.S., last month’s mid-term election was ho-hum in Oregon — as in, few election snafus.
The state Elections Division certified Oregon’s results last week, while races in some states remained undecided amid recounts, court challenges and allegations of fraud. From California to North Carolina, questions have been raised about the security of absentee voting by mail.
In Oregon, 1,914,923 voters cast ballots — a record for a mid-term election. Voting violations are rare, although a union-backed group, Our Oregon, did deliver 97 ballots to the Multnomah County elections office a day after the election deadline. The state Elections Division is investigating.
The ballots were collected from voters but not turned in by Defend Oregon, a political action committee affiliated with Our Oregon. Groups collect ballots to ensure they are cast, but the practice — called ballot harvesting — has raised concerns in some states for fear that partisan groups might have discarded ballots, because of the voters’ demographics, or altered unsealed ballots.
Such concerns provide one more reason why Oregon should make its ballots postage-paid so more voters mail them in, as Gov. Kate Brown proposed in her 2019-21 state budget recommendation.
The reality is that the term “vote-by-mail” is inaccurate. Ballots are delivered to voters by mail but not necessarily returned that way. A 2016 survey found the majority of voters in Oregon, California and Washington took their ballots to a county elections office or official drop-site.
Oregon led the nation in launching all-mail voting, and this year gained the distinction of being the No. 1 state for ease of voting. Political scientists from Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University and China’s Wuhan University created a “Cost of Voting Index” to analyze each state’s election laws.
Following Oregon at No. 1 were Colorado, California, North Dakota and Iowa. At the bottom: Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Texas.
Oregon combines vote-by-mail with automatic voter registration when an Oregon resident and U.S. citizen visits the DMV to apply for, renew or replace a state driver license, permit or identification card. Brown wants to expand that automatic registration to include citizen interactions at other state agencies.
By the way, 16- and 17-year-olds can register but not vote until age 18.
However, Oregon lags in other ways. A third of U.S. states allow voter registration up through Election Day. North Dakota doesn’t even require registration. Yet Oregon cuts off registration 20 days before an election, having ended same-day registration in the 1980s because followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh recruited homeless individuals around the U.S. to come to Wasco County and vote for the sect’s local candidates.
Vote-by-mail in Oregon has been studied extensively. There is little evidence of fraud, although 48 individuals were suspected of voting twice in the 2016 presidential election, and six ballots were submitted from dead persons.
Such allegations are unsettling in a state that prides itself on clean elections. Yet they are tiny compared with the complaints of election fraud and vote suppression roiling other states.