Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Don't extend time for turning in Oregon ballots

The final tally for the 2000 U.S. presidential election in Florida was George W. Bush, 2,912,790 votes, and Al Gore, 2,912,253 votes - a difference of 537 votes.

Of course, everyone knows that the presidential contest in 2000 went all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to stop the certification of the election by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and that in turn gave Bush his electoral margin and victory.

Nearly every election observer agrees that Florida 2000 was a low point in the history of American electoral democracy. Imagine how much worse it would have been if, the day after the election, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ballots nationwide had not even been counted yet because they were still winding their way through the postal system.

In the 2010 election, control of the U.S. Senate turned on the outcome of a very small number of competitive races. One of the most interesting was held in Alaska, where incumbent Lisa Murkowski was fighting for her political life after being forced into a write-in candidacy against the Tea Party-sponsored Joe Miller and Scott McAdams.

It was very possible that control of the U.S. Senate, and the future of Obama’s major fiscal and social policies, would turn on the Alaska Senate race. And given the nature of the postal system in Alaska, it was also possible that it would be weeks before we’d know the final outcome, as late arriving postal ballots were counted.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia count late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots, as long as they have been postmarked by Election Day. Washington is among these states.

In California, a recently proposed bill goes further, requiring that ballots be counted if they arrive by mail without a postmark, as long as they are signed and dated by the voter.

No such proposals have emerged yet in Oregon, the national leader in voting by mail, and my hopes are that they do not.

It is unfortunate when a voter waits too long to cast a ballot or worse, through no fault of their own, a ballot fails to be delivered in a timely basis. This is why county election administrators and the Oregon Secretary of State print prominent warnings on the ballot envelope about the due date, advertise heavily, and establish drop boxes located around the county.

Oregon voters seem to understand this. It’s a little known fact that Oregon is not primarily a “vote-by-mail” state, but a “vote-by-drop-box” state. In the 2012 election, for example, 53 percent of ballots in Multnomah County were hand delivered to a drop box or at the counter, or sent by fax.

In practice, the postmark “deadline” actually works to disenfranchise more voters than the Election Day “deadline.” The Washington Policy Center compared the percentage of late-arriving ballots in the five largest Oregon and Washington counties in November 2012, and more Washington than Oregon voters missed the deadline. Oregon has the stricter deadline, yet turnout in Oregon is higher.

Allowing ballots to arrive after Election Day creates unnecessary administrative burdens. It can sow confusion about election results. And it relies on the Post Office to apply consistent postmarks.

But more importantly, the “postmark” rule elevates the individual interest in having their ballot count above the collective interest in determining the outcome of an election fairly and efficiently.

The individual franchise is important because it helps to assure that political leaders are responsive to the public and lends legitimacy to the actions of political leaders.

Elections as a collective act, however, are fundamentally about allocating political power. Elections emerged in the 17th century, relatively late in the history of human governance. They were seen as an elitist institution in ancient Athens. Winston Churchill famously described democracy as “the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

We should work to assure that every Oregonian and every American has ready access to the ballot. This is why Oregon adopted vote by mail and is why many states have moved to hybrid election systems, with election-day, vote-by-mail, and early in-person balloting. We should work to develop new technologies that may allow for Internet voting in the future.

But we should also try to make sure that elections are decided quickly, without unnecessary delay. If this requires voters to remember to mail a ballot three days before the election or deliver it by hand to one of many ballot drop-box locations, this is a reasonable compromise.

Paul Gronke is the political director for DHM Research, Portland.




Local Weather

Fair

65°F

Wilsonville

Fair

Humidity: 58%

Wind: 5 mph

  • 22 Aug 2014

    Clear 79°F 56°F

  • 23 Aug 2014

    Sunny 87°F 58°F