The ins and outs of voting in Columbia County
Two weeks from today, voters will decide who fills offices, from president on down to local soil and water conservation boards.
Ballots are on their way now — most voters should have already received theirs.
Results can change after election night as ballots are tallied, and even after election workers have counted all the ballots in their possession on Nov. 3, more ballots can arrive from other counties. Ballots with signature issues aren't counted until the issue is resolved, which can take up to two weeks.
In Oregon, voters can drop their ballot off at any official drop site in the state, not just within the county where they are registered to vote. After election day, those ballots are delivered to the correct counties and counted. Additionally, ballots that are submitted without a signature or with a non-matching signature are returned to the sender, but are counted if signed and re-submitted.
In the May 2020 election, 387 Columbia County ballots were tallied after election night — 2% increase in total votes.
Ballots are not valid unless the official ballot envelope is signed. Signatures on envelopes are compared against other signatures on file for that voter, which include signatures recorded by the DMV like on state-issued ID, and signatures on paper voter registration cards. If the signature on a ballot does not match other signatures on file for that voter, the ballot is considered "unaccepted." The local elections clerk then contacts the voter to confirm the validity of the ballot. The voter has two weeks to confirm the ballot, or else it won't be counted.
Ballots were first mailed last Wednesday, Oct. 14. The Columbia County elections supervisor, Don Clack, said that voters should contact the elections office if they haven't received their ballot by this Wednesday.
"The local USPS workers are working very hard right (now) and their efforts should be appreciated," Clack noted.
The county had initially estimated delivery between Oct. 19 and Oct. 23, but Clack has since narrowed that down to just Oct. 19 or Oct. 20.
In-person voting isn't possible in Oregon.
"If the intent is to stand in line for hours to check in, receive a ballot, vote it, and turn it in at a polling place, this is not a possible experience in Oregon," Clack said.
Since all ballots are mailed, "the closest thing a person could do is bring their ballot to a drop site and use an official dropbox," Clack explained.
Ballots do not require stamps. The secrecy envelope included with your ballot is entirely optional. Completed ballots should be mailed no later than Oct. 28 to ensure they arrive in time for the Nov. 3 election. Voters can also drop off ballots at any official drop box in Oregon, up until 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
There are six official ballot drop sites in Columbia County:
• Columbia County Courthouse, 230 Strand St., St. Helens
• Scappoose City Hall, 33568 E. Columbia Ave., Scappoose
• Clatskanie Library, 11 Lillich St., Clatskanie
• Rainier City Hall, 106 B St. West, Rainier
• Vernonia Public Library, 701 Weed Ave, Vernonia
• Mist-Birkenfeld RFPD, 12525 Highway 202, Mist
This fall, all dropboxes are accessible 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The ballot drop boxes at Clatskanie Library, Rainier City Hall and Vernonia Public Library were previously located inside those buildings, but have been moved outside for "safety, security and accessibility reasons," according to officials.
The secretary of state's website offers the My Vote tool, which allows voters to check the status of their ballot.
Voter's pamphlets are generally delivered to local post offices the week before ballots are mailed, and mail carriers then distribute one to each household. If you did not receive a voter's pamphlet, ask your mail carrier or visit the closest post office. A digital pamphlet for Columbia County offices and measures is available on the county's website. For state and federal candidates and measures, visit the secretary of state's website.
In Columbia County, ballots are counted at the Columbia County Courthouse.
"Strictly speak, 'counting' is done by a machine," Clack explained. "Before ballots can be run through a machine, they must be scanned as accepted, signature checked, removed from their envelopes and made machinable (flattened and inspected for things that would make it not scannable)."
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