PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The coronavirus pandemic has upended every facet of American life, including primary elections throughout the country. But Oregon, with its vote-by-mail system, is a leader in how elections may be held moving forward.
For years, Oregon’s Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have touted the advantages of vote-by-mail. Wyden, especially, has made it a key issue and has worked for the adoption of it nationwide. Not only does it promote higher election turnout, but the mail-in system provides a paper trail to help verify results.
Merkley recently has been among the US senators who have thrown their weight behind a provision in any new stimulus package to make no-excuse absentee voting standard in all 50 states. While it is not the exact same as Oregon’s vote by mail, no-excuse absentee voting will make it easier for any voter anywhere to request an absentee ballot and vote without any worry about social distancing.
Key dates in the 2020 Oregon Primary
Voter pamphlets delivered between April 22-24, 2020. The deadline for voter registrationg for the primary is April 28, 2020. Ballots are mailed on April 29, and Primary Election Day is May 19.
Oregon’s advantage: 20 years experience
Steve Trout, the director of Oregon elections, told KOIN 6 News that, despite the pandemic and social distancing in effect, Oregon voters won’t really notice any difference in how they vote in the primary.
“Ballots and voters pamphlets are at the printers now. They are going to be mailed to their mailboxes and they will be able to cast their ballots just like they have at any other time,” he said.
The change will be on the backend, once a voter mails in the ballot.
“That’s a real benefit of our system on the backend, where the counties are going to be signature verifying and taking the ballots out of the envelopes, that’s where the pandemic and the virus will impact the election,” he said.
“This year there is a lot of manual labor that goes into checking every signature on every ballot envelope to pull the ballots out of the envelope so that they can be run through the machine. That’s really the part that is with the social distancing rules, you know, finding space to be able to spread out is, I think, the biggest challenge that the county election folks are going to have.”
But Trout said there are contingencies in place and meetings with county officials take place every Monday.
One of their biggest concerns is the age of the election workers. “Workers are usually in those higher age ranges but now it’s not so much on the people. It’s really on the space.”
And for the first time, Oregon voters will have pre-paid postage for the May primary — meaning every mail box is a ballot drop box.
“We will still have drop boxes,” Trout said. “Some of those will be closed because they are in the library, they are inside closed buildings. So we are encouraging people to go to our website — OregonVotes.gov/dropbox.”
He added there is “not a concern” over the envelopes being licked, both because of the time involved and the fact that part of the envelope isn’t opened.
Trout told KOIN 6 News he’s been getting calls from across the country as more states look at vote-by-mail to learn Oregon’s secrets.
“We’ve really been trying to help people to be able to benefit from our long history of successfully administering elections through the mail,” he said. “When you are trying to make this big of a change this fast, we are trying to coach them along, help them to know the right people to talk to, the right things to be concerned about. And, really, the policy decisions that have to be made.”
His last piece of advice for voting by mail is simple.
“Return your ballot as soon as you can. We hear a lot about flattening the curve.”
Special Election for Woodland School District
On April 28, there is a special election on behalf of the Woodland School District for their levy.
Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said there are only about 1200 voters in Clark County who will receive ballots for this election and “about 4 temporary election workers” will work that election, he said.
“We’re trying to figure out what additional steps we’re going to implement for the April election.”