Posted: May 20, 2008 8:51 PM
Vote-by-Mail Adds Twist to Primary Voting in Oregon
Unlike earlier contests, there are no high school gyms filled with caucus-goers or long lines of voters outside polling places in Oregon. Under a unique system approved by voter referendum in 1998, all ballots in Tuesday’s contest were cast by mail.
The voting technique was designed to give voters more chance to mull over issues and candidates, increase voter participation and eliminate barriers that prevent people from getting to the polls between specific hours on Election Day.
But critics say that despite built-in safeguards such as signature verification, vote by mail is also vulnerable to fraud.
“It is true that when a ballot is mailed to someone’s house it has left the hands of the government, it has left the hands of certainly a secure polling place and it is put into mailboxes. Sometime that is a little box outside their house and someone can maybe try to get their ballot… It’s not necessarily a secret delivery,” said Rob Richie of Fairvote.org in an interview with NPR.
It’s still popular among voters, a 2003 study by the Secretary of State. found. The same study found no evidence that vote by mail favored one party, but it did find that certain groups, including women, young people, people with disabilities and retirees find the system more convenient. As a result, they vote more often.
The vote by mail process is much different from walking into a voting booth. Voting packets, including a ballot and a voter guide, are mailed through the post office 14 to 18 days before the deadline. Voters fill out their ballot, put it in a secrecy envelope, sign the outside of the return envelope and send it to their election office. They can also return them to official dropsites but day-of postmarks won’t get the ballot counted.
All ballots must be signed and those signatures are verified by election officials. Unsigned ballots received before Election Day are returned to the voter by mail. For unsigned ballots received on Election Day, election workers call the voter to tell them they need to sign their ballot by the deadline.
Multnomah County put together a detailed video explaining the entire voting process, from the shipping of ballots to the sorting and counting.
County officials can begin counting ballots on Election Day and begin releasing unofficial results at the deadline. On Tuesday, that deadline is at 8 p.m. Pacific Time.
The mail-in system allows counties to record the number of ballots they have received in the days leading up to the election, which many publish on their Web sites.