Secretary of State Shemia Fagan says voters should keep Oregon's new postmark-deadline law in mind when they return their mail ballots for Tuesday's primary election.
The election is Oregon's first statewide in which ballots postmarked by election day will count, if county elections offices receive them no later than seven days after the election (on May 24). The change was made by the 2021 Legislature, which sought to eliminate confusion about when voters should mail ballots. Under previous law, ballots had to be in the hands of county elections officials — including official drop boxes — by 8 p.m. on election day.
Fagan, who serves as Oregon's chief elections officer, says voters should be aware of mail pickup times if they choose to use U.S. Postal Service mailboxes.
"Make sure you check those pickup times. They might not have a pickup after 3 p.m. on election day," she said.
"If in doubt, just put it in an official ballot drop box. If you use a USPS mailbox, the ballot must be postmarked by that date. There is no provision in the law to accept ballots postmarked after election day. It is important to build trust in this new postmark law."
The secretary of state is the chief elections officer, but officials in Oregon's 36 counties conduct the actual elections. In addition to county elections offices, most counties have multiple locations for drop boxes; ballots are due by 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Oregon has had a closed primary for more than a century. Only registered Democratic voters can nominate Democratic candidates, and only Republican voters can choose Republican candidates. The major parties can allow nonaffiliated voters to participate under a 1989 law, but neither party did so for this primary.
All voters, including those not affiliated with any party, can decide on nonpartisan offices such as the state Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner, judgeships and city and some county offices, plus ballot measures. There are no statewide ballot measures in Tuesday's election.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon's move to election-day postmarks aligns it with Washington, California, Nevada and 14 other states, plus Washington, D.C. Oregon and California share a seven-day deadline after the election for ballots to be received; Nevada sets four days; Washington has no specified deadline.
As of Thursday, May 12, Oregon's statewide return rate for mail ballots in the primary was just 13%. Rates for metro counties: Multnomah, 10.2%; Washington, 12%; Clackamas, 12.6%; Yamhill, 15%; Columbia, 11.1%. Marion County recorded 12.4%.
In the most recent comparable primary election in 2018, the rate was just shy of 34%; Democrat Kate Brown went on to win a full term of her own. Other rates for primary elections in which there was an open contest for governor — with no incumbent — 41.6% in 2010, 46.7% in 2002, 38.2% in 1994, 46% in 1990 and 47.6% in 1986.
In 2010, former Gov. John Kitzhaber won the Democratic primary and then went on to be the first candidate elected to a third term as governor, after sitting out eight years. He had been governor from 1995 to 2003. He was elected again in 2014, but resigned under pressure of an ethics scandal in 2015 just 38 days into his new term.
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