PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – If Oregon hopes to catch up to the number of ballots returned in the last two midterm elections, it still has a long way to go. 

As of Monday, the day before Election Day, only 36% of ballots in Oregon had been returned. 

That’s significantly less than the ballot return rate the day before Election Day the last two midterm elections. On Nov. 5, 2018, 49.8% of ballots had been returned and on Nov. 3, 2014, 49.9% of ballots had been returned. 

Tim Scott, the director of the Multnomah County Elections Division, said voters “have been waiting. It’s a long ballot in Multnomah County.”

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey agreed. “I do expect people are taking a little bit longer to think things through.”

Washington County Elections Manager Dan Forester said they “expect our office to be pretty busy” on Tuesday.

The number of returned ballots in Oregon is also far behind what it was during the 2020 election, but the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office advised not comparing midterm elections to presidential elections, because presidential election years often have higher voter turnouts. 

Ballot turnout

While Oregon’s ballot return rate is low, it’s currently higher than Washington’s. 

In Washington, only 31.97% of eligible voters had returned their completed ballots as of Monday. 

Counties near the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area appear to reflect similar trends in voter turnout. 

As of Monday, 34.18% of ballots in Multnomah County had been returned. In Washington County, the return rate was 31.55% 

Clackamas County has not updated its ballot return numbers since Friday, but last reported a return rate of 31.35%. 

Marion County updated its voter data Saturday and said 35.28% of ballots had been returned. 

Clark County said after an influx of ballots Monday to area drop boxes, they’re close to 40% turnout, which is where they were at or around in past midterms — and they hope to reach 70% by the end of Election Day, already preparing for a busy day.

An official ballot drop box in Clark County, Washington, November 7, 2022 (KOIN)
An official ballot drop box in Clark County, Washington, November 7, 2022 (KOIN)

“It’s absolutely important. That’s what being an American is all about. Voting is how we participate in our government, how we participate in the democracy of America,” said Mike Johnson, who came into Clark County’s election headquarters to turn in his ballot. “It feels good. It’s like yes, alright, got ‘er done. I think Americans have a voice and you’ve got to use it. You’ve got to vote.”

The number of registered voters in Oregon has increased by more than 200,000 since the last midterm election in 2018. 

Kimsey added that though there hasn’t been too many changes from past elections, they have seen an increase in voter registration in recent years.

“People can actually register to vote and get a ballot on Election Day which was not available in 2018, the last midterm election,” said Kimsey. “The system works better, the more people participate, so we’re very pleased to see, 70% turnout is pretty good turnout, especially when we’ve increased the number of registered voters so dramatically over the last few years.”

While Clark County said they’re at an average voter turnout, the Washington Secretary of State’s Office said statewide, numbers have been down, especially in Southwest Washington. This comes as the district is home to one of the country’s most contested races for U.S. Congress, between Republican Joe Kent and Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez.

Other counties in the region are seeing higher turnout than Clark County including 44% in Cowlitz County, 43% in Klickitat County, and 57% in Pacific County.

Washington state is also urging young voters to make sure they get their ballots in Tuesday and have their voices heard. According to the state, those between the ages of 18-25 have the lowest voter turnout right now, serving as only 3.6% of the total ballots returned.

Tabulating the ballots

For those who have voted by mail, check online to see if your ballot has been accepted.

Kimsey said anyone who needs a replacement ballot should “come early in the day” to get one. He also expects lines to be long at ballot boxes.

One thing that could impact how quickly ballots are returned in the 2022 election is the new Oregon law that says ballots postmarked by Election Day will still be counted. Before 2022, any ballot submitted through the mail was required to be postmarked by a certain date so that it arrived at elections offices before Election Day.  

Forester said those 8 p.m. Election Night postmark ballots may take weeks to count.

And his advice for those keeping an eye on the election tally: “It’d be important to be patient.”

Whether it’s in Washington County or in Clark County, all counties in the Pacific Northwest have 2-steps of signature verification — by human and by computer. Ballots are reviewed by bipartisan election judges.

“In (Clark) County, observers from the Republican Party, Democratic Party as well as the League of Women Voters” keep an eye on the ballot tabulation, Kimsey said.

Forester agreed. “A number of steps in the process do involve bipartisan teams.”

Once tabulated, the results are stored on an air-gapped computer, then just before the polls close, put on a hard drive to be uploaded with the rest of the state’s results.

“It just can’t be hacked from the outside,” Scott said.