voter turnout

Vote-by-Mail Might Save the Day on Secure Elections

Oregon’s vote-by-mail got its start more than three decades ago because it saved money. Now vote-by-mail may grow in popularity nationwide because it is more secure. Oh yeah, it also boosts voter turnout.

Oregon’s vote-by-mail got its start more than three decades ago because it saved money. Now vote-by-mail may grow in popularity nationwide because it is more secure. Oh yeah, it also boosts voter turnout.

In the face of foreign meddling in US elections, officials such as Oregon Senator Ron Wyden are urging a return to paper ballots.

For Oregon, that would be no big deal because of its vote-by-mail election system, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling wrote a recent op-ed for The Oregonian tracing the history of Oregon’s groundbreaking vote-by-mail system. Its genesis began when Linn County Clerk Del Riley asked a simple question: Why send every registered voter a sample paper ballot, then make them troop to a polling place on election day?

He answered his own question by saying it was cheaper and more voter-friendly just to send an actual ballot and let people fill it out over their kitchen table, then mail it in or drop it off. This kind of plainsong logic has been a mainstay of Oregon political innovation for a long time.

Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling is often called the father of the state’s innovative vote-by-mail, but he says the idea originated with Linn County Clerk Del Riley and was initially championed by Secretary of State Norma Paulus.

Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling is often called the father of the state’s innovative vote-by-mail, but he says the idea originated with Linn County Clerk Del Riley and was initially championed by Secretary of State Norma Paulus.

Like any disruptive idea, vote-by-mail faced political headwinds. Even though Riley was a Democrat, his party’s leaders worried that vote-by-mail would tend to favor Republicans who fare better in absentee balloting. Keisling admits his own initial skepticism led him to vote against vote-by-mail. Despite reservations, the 1981 Oregon legislature approved a 2-year trial.

In the first trial, appropriately in Linn County, Keisling said voter turnout reached 75 percent – in a special election.

Acceptance remained grudging, Keisling recalled. Only a few counties used vote-by-mail in 1985-86. The 1995 Oregon legislature approved a measure to allow vote-by-mail for any election, but Governor John Kitzhaber, at the urging of the Democratic National Committee, vetoed it.

“It took until 1998 with a push from a successful, all-volunteer ballot initiative effort to overwhelmingly enshrine the idea in Oregon law,” Keisling wrote.

Actual experience has shown vote-by-mail has increased voter participation. Keisling noted Oregon achieved a 71 percent voter turnout in the 2014 midterm election. The national average for turnout was 48 percent.

Keisling co-founded the National Vote at Home Institute that promotes vote-by-mail. Washington and Colorado have followed Oregon’s example and 27 out of 29 counties in Utah use it. There are experiments in Alaska, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota and California. Vote-by-mail continues to improve voter turnout in blue, red and purple states.

Even so, the biggest boost for vote-by-mail could be it is a paper ballot, hard to hack and easy to recount and audit. “Americans must move to paper ballots, marked by hand. Until that system is adopted, every election that goes by is an election that Russia could hack,” according to Wyden as he introduced the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act.

If voting machines are scrapped and replaced by paper, why not follow the wily intuition of Del Riley. Vote-by-mail is cheaper and encourages higher voter turnout. 

Voting that is more secure, cheaper and convenient would seem to be irresistible – and inevitable. We’ll see. If vote-by-mail does prevail nationwide, Del Riley and Oregonians can take a victory lap.

 

Buehler Amps Up His Incumbent Challenge

Bend Republican Knute Buehler casts himself as the best GOP hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Governor Kate Brown, but he will have to overcome political conservatives in his own party in Tuesday’s Oregon primary election to get the chance to test Brown this fall. [Photo Credit: AP]

Bend Republican Knute Buehler casts himself as the best GOP hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Governor Kate Brown, but he will have to overcome political conservatives in his own party in Tuesday’s Oregon primary election to get the chance to test Brown this fall. [Photo Credit: AP]

The classic way for a challenger to take down an incumbent is to 1) raise doubts about the incumbent’s performance and 2) position yourself as a preferred alternative.

Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), the presumptive front-running GOP gubernatorial challenger, has been taking whacks at Governor Kate Brown for months and insisting he could do better. But his political challenge runs deeper. Buehler has to prove in next week’s GOP primary that he is a more attractive candidate than his more politically conservative fellow Republicans.

Buehler has raised and spent vastly more money than his GOP competitors, called out one opponent for having 21 tax liens against him and generally avoided mixing it up with fellow candidates in the hustings. This week, Buehler came up with a new tactic: a dress rehearsal for GOP voters on how he would campaign against Brown if he wins the GOP nomination.

Buehler tried to upstage Brown at her media event in Eugene to tout her support for improved foster care in Oregon. Buehler, who has been a fierce critic of Brown’s leadership on foster care, scheduled his own media event at the same location, blasted Brown’s performance and recalled his legislative proposal to increase spending on foster care in Oregon by $50 million.

The political troll of Brown was itself a prime example of what challengers have to do to unseat incumbents. But the timing and intensity of Buehler’s media event was probably intended to impress undecided GOP voters that the Bend Republican will do more than recite conservative doctrine if he is the Republican who wins the job.

Buehler has taken pains to create a political image outside the shadow of Donald Trump on the fairly safe grounds that Oregon is anything but Trump-friendly. His purported variance from conservative orthodoxy, including on emotion-charged issues such as abortion, haven’t necessarily swayed a segment of Oregon’s conservative political base. That’s why Oregon Right to Life threw its support behind Sam Carpenter, the opponent Buehler pointed out who has all those tax liens.

Since primary elections in Oregon and generally are bastions for the partisan faithful, Buehler could wind up next Tuesday as the candidate with the best chance to test Brown, but who can’t win his own primary. His best hope is to convince Republicans that having a chance to win in November is more rewarding than basking in the defeat of a political moderate in May.

His struggle to convince GOP conservatives was evident when he barely squeaked out a victory in a straw ballot among generally more moderate Washington County Republicans. It should be noted that only 75 Republicans showed up for the unusual pre-primary event.

And that’s the problem with the formula for defeating incumbents. It takes one more element to pull off the upset. After beating up the incumbent and touting your own competence, you need to make sure voter turnout favors your candidacy. That may not be the case on Tuesday for Buehler.

In what is viewed as a lackluster primary, turnout could be relatively low, which could mean a higher percentage of bedrock conservative voters. Much of Buehler’s general election appeal is to the growing group of non-affiliated Oregon voters. Unfortunately for Buehler, independent voters won’t get the chance to weigh in his primary gubernatorial bid.

Meanwhile, Brown faces only token opposition in the Democratic primary and will enter the general election with her campaign war chest intact and robust. Buehler may represent her toughest opponent, but only if he earns the GOP nomination on Tuesday.

 

Low Turnout Marks Primary Voting

Nearly seven of 10 registered Oregon voters saved postage and didn't vote in Tuesday's primary election that booted two legislative incumbents, dismissed the business community's favorite for mayor of Portland and effectively elected a new attorney general. Turnout was low despite a presidential primary in which the major nominees already had been chosen.

Even a spirited Portland mayoral race failed to spark voter interest in Multnomah County, as Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith finished atop a crowded field to fight on in November. New Seasons co-founder and establishment favorite Eileen Brady saw her early lead wilt away in the final days of the campaign.

Clackamas County became the test garden for Tea Party politics in Oregon as former Wilsonville Mayor John Ludlow emerged to challenge sitting Chair Charlotte Lehan this fall. Ludlow swept past previous conservative favorite Paul Savas, who will retain his seat on the Clackamas County Commission, and former House Speaker Dave Hunt, who finished a disappointing fourth. The same political tussle shapes up as Commissioner Jamie Damon faces conservative former House member Tootie Smith. Former Commissioner and state Senator Martha Schrader won her seat in Tuesday's election.

Women activists touted a number of key wins, led by Ellen Rosenblum's comfortable victory in the Democratic primary for attorney general over Dwight Holton. Despite marijuana laws strangely becoming a focal point in the campaign, Rosenblum should face only token Republican opposition in the general election after GOP operatives mounted a write-in campaign for James Buchal. Since Attorney General John Kroger plans to resign by this summer, it is possible Rosenblum will be appointed to fill out the rest of his term and run as the incumbent in November.