Oregon: The Vote is in the Mail

May 19, 2008

Like other states during this historic presidential election year, Oregon has seen a spike in the number of registered voters -- to 2.64 million from 1.86 million in 2004. More than 270,000 Oregonians have already cast their ballots for the primary, said Scott Moore, a spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State's Office.

Oregon election officials' biggest concern in this year's May 20 primary was whether voters would remember that the price of a stamp went up a penny on May 12, just as they began mailing back their ballots.

But not to worry: Oregon counties reached an agreement with local post offices to deliver the ballots without delay, even if postage is a penny short below the new 42-cent rate.

"The federal government sadly decided to schedule a rate change in the middle of our election," Moore said.

Oregon's one-of-a-kind system works this way. Ballot packages are automatically mailed to all registered voters from the 14th to the 18th day before an election. After a voter makes his or her selections, the ballot is placed first in a "secrecy envelope," which is then sealed in a pre-addressed return envelope. Voters must sign the return envelope, verifying that the return envelope has the correct name and current address.

Voters can mail their ballots or drop them off at any county election office or any designated drop site in the state. Either way, the ballot must be received, not just postmarked, in any county election office or designated drop site by 8 p.m. on election night. Ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. will not be counted.

To ensure confidentiality, ballots are separated from return envelopes before the ballots are inspected. Unofficial election results will be available after 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Oregon started experimenting with the mail-in vote in 1981, when the Legislature approved a pilot program for local elections. Voters in 1998 overwhelmingly endorsed a ballot measure expanding vote by mail to all general and primary elections. In the November 2006 general election, Oregon's vote by mail had a 70-percent turnout.

Read the full report Oregon's Primary Unlike Any Other on Stateline.org's Web site.

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