Oregon has long been a national leader in vote-by-mail – with the first green light for it in local elections in 1981. But the state’s traditional system faces threats amid changes proposed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that some say could slow USPS operations and cause delays in mail delivery.
On Aug. 5, Willamette Week reported that “DeJoy’s directives have already caused delays in the return of ballots for Portland’s Aug. 11 special election.” In response to DeJoy’s proposals, State Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) announced legislation to extend Oregon’s vote-by-mail deadline to the Saturday prior to Election Day, providing voters with two additional days to mail their ballots.
“Oregon’s vote-by-mail system is an example for the nation, but it needs improvements, such as more security and better access to serve Oregonians,” Knopp said in a statement to Willamette Week. “These improvements to our vote-by-mail system will help ensure rural Oregonians, senior citizens and those concerned about their health during the COVID-19 pandemic have their ballots counted and voices heard.”
Oregon became the first U.S. state to conduct a presidential election by mail in 2000. That election saw a 79 percent voter turnout, according to OPB. Since 2000, Oregon typically has a voter turnout of 50 percent in primary elections, compared to other U.S. states who see half that amount.
“The young, old, rich, poor, Democrats, Republicans, non-affiliated voters, white, non-white. All voter groups have higher turnout when they’re automatically getting their ballot several weeks before Election Day,” Phil Keisling, Oregon’s former secretary of state, said in a statement to OPB.
Rep. Raquel Moore-Green (R-Salem) expressed support for Knopp’s proposal in an Aug. 5 news release, and stressed the importance of remaining vigilant as Oregon’s voting system faces challenges.
“Even as we celebrate Oregon’s 20-year-old vote-by-mail system, we must not become complacent. We must stay mindful of ongoing threats to our voting system and continue to work on improvements in the verification portion of the system so that those eligible and registered to vote in Oregon are able to do so in a safe and protected manner,” Moore-Green said in the Aug. 5 news release. “Oregonians need to feel confident in our voting system.”
So far, no Democratic leaders have expressed support for Knopp’s proposal, according to Willamette Week.