Oregon’s Vote by Mail: A Closer Look

Oregon is one of only five states which votes entirely by mail. Many people are already concerned with this issue during the 2020 general election cycle. This is because the current public health situation may prevent voting in person under some circumstances. Oregon has led the nation in the move to complete vote by mail for all elections. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Elections: the position of the LWV

We are all equal at the ballot box, but only if we vote. We engage millions of voters every year. Thus we ensure Americans have the information they need to participate in elections that determine our future.

Why it matters and what we are doing: LWV

Elections impact every aspect of our lives, and we all need to weigh in. Every year we host thousands of community events to mobilize and help voters participate. LWV also hosts hundreds of debates and forums nationwide for voters to hear directly from the candidates.

The idea of national vote-by-mail:

According to the National Conference of state Legislatures, five states currently conduct all elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. At least 21 other states have laws that allow certain smaller elections, such as school board contests, to be conducted by mail. For these elections, all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail. The voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve and then into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off.

Vote by mail logoBallots are mailed out well ahead of Election Day, and thus voters have an “election period,” not just a single day, to vote. All-mail elections can be thought of as absentee voting for everyone. This system is also referred to as “vote by mail.” 

While “all-mail elections” means that every registered voter receives a ballot by mail, this does not preclude in-person voting opportunities on and/or before Election Day. For example, despite the fact that all registered voters in Colorado are mailed a ballot, voters can choose to cast a ballot at an in-person vote center during the early voting period or on Election Day (or drop off, or mail, their ballot back).

Generally, states begin with providing all-mail elections only in certain circumstances, and then add additional opportunities as citizens become familiar with procedures. Oregon’s vote-by-mail timeline includes four times that the legislature acted prior to the 1998 citizens’ vote that made Oregon the first all-mail election state.

Oregon vote by mail: how to

LWV Oregon: Our views on how vote by mail works here

Request a mail-in ballot

Oregon is VBM (vote by mail) so all ballots are mail-in. To replace a ballot, see (ballot help):
If your ballot arrives damaged, you make a mistake, spill something, lose your ballot, or for any other reason, contact your county elections office for a replacement ballot.

Observing the counting process

Oregon supports unparalleled transparency. Contact your county elections office to observe the election process.

Deadlines for receiving and postmarks for ballots?

In Oregon, by 8pm on election day: received in the mail, into dropboxes/drop sites, or delivered to the County Elections offices. Late arriving ballots are not counted. Campaigns and political parties call daily, using daily ballot return reports from elections, to get ballots in.

Counting Timelines

When do they start counting and when must counting be completed?

Ballot counting in Lane County, Oregon usually starts the Friday before election day. NO results are ever released before polling closes. Counting continues until completed on election day. That is not the same as election certification, determined by statute. For our May 19, 2020 primary, the election must be certified by June 18th. See our 2020 election calendar for state statute references.

Prepare to count-

How many people are needed, how are these people trained?

Experienced staff usually just needs a review, otherwise a day, half-day to train.

How are drop box locations determined?

See Oregon drop box locator. Drop site requirements are in statute.

What are the top 5 reasons people’s ballots are rejected?

Per our state Elections Director, 2 big reasons- ballot isn’t signed or signature doesn’t match.

How are voters notified if there is a “problem” with their ballot and what processes are in place to allow voters to remedy the “problem”?

If voters share contact info, county elections will call or email. However, this is now problematic since this is public information and voters don’t want the spam. The state could track with ballot tracker, but it needs to verify if it can notify voters for problems.

What are the key considerations when operating a vote by mail infrastructure to ensure all votes are counted?

  1. Voter Registration: publicize widely and remind often because if voters aren’t registered, they can’t vote. Our #MotorVoter through the DMV is not perfect. We haven’t yet addressed party registration online, currently a separate, easily overlooked postcard.
  2. Ballot Mailing Alerts: tell voters when ballots are being mailed, to contact their county elections’ offices if they haven’t gotten theirs.
  3. Track Your Ballot Encourage voters to sign up for ballot tracker, or whatever program may exist in their area, to track their ballots, from mailed, to received, to counted.
  4. Deadline pushing– Ballots must be received by deadlines, in Oregon by 8pm on election day-postmarks don’t help, and now, with pre-paid envelopes, our state Elections Director cautions that there will not be postmarks anyway.
  5. Secure Procedures There are manuals for thorough safety protocols to control location oversight, tracking, redundant staff review, always having political party inclusion in each team with everyone stopping together for meal or rest room breaks, etc.

Who are key allies for this issue? Do they include groups representing communities of color, the disability community, etc.?

ACLU, political parties, even though they do not work directly with LWV.

What research or data can you share to show that vote by mail has actually increased turnout, especially among underrepresented groups?

See The SoS Election Statistics page for general, primary, special election turnout and ballot return history since 2000. OR VBM statistics, a comprehensive history, up to 2006.

LWV oregon public education messaging on how to vote by mail

Is there any type of messages or methods that seemed effective when explaining to the general public on how to vote-by-mail?

Oregon started VBM in the early 1980s, gradually, for local special elections.

How did you measure its effectiveness?

During the implementation of all-mail elections in oregon, what were some of the challenges advocates for all-mail elections had to overcome?

Vote by mail, automatic voter registration, pre-paid ballot postage, pre-registration for younger voters, all have been opposed, sometimes invoking vulnerability to voter fraud. No one has been able to validate those concerns. From NPR, 2018, “If and when a bank gets robbed or a car gets stolen, we don’t stop using banks or cars. We enforce the laws we have in place.”

LWV Oregon Position: How should advocates for all-mail elections prepare for these challenges during the 2020 General Election?

Encourage elections offices to prepare ASAP:

  • Establish needs (quantity, cost, time, and materials’ availability), for paper, printing, processing and staffing/labor needs.
  • Equipment needs to be in place and compatible, with staff trained to use it.
  • We are concerned that our veteran pollworking crew, many older and notably vulnerable to COVID-19, may not be available.
  • Coordinate a publicity campaign with trustworthy branding, multi-faceted outreach to various communities and media, especially social media.
  • Include partners like the Dept of ED, youth groups, League, ACLU, disability and minority voters rights’ groups, Chambers of Commerce, City Clubs, etc.

Oregon has compiled election statistics from 1992-2018, for cost per ballot (received), and per voter with turnout.

Oregon vote by mail