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Oregon Viewed as Gold Standard for Vote By Mail

An analysis of vote-by-mail systems gave Oregon an "A" for preparedness. (Democracy Chronicles/Flickr)
An analysis of vote-by-mail systems gave Oregon an "A" for preparedness. (Democracy Chronicles/Flickr)
September 21, 2020

SALEM, Ore. -- Many states are scrambling to shore up their vote-by-mail processes, and Oregon's first-in-the-nation system is being looked to as a gold standard.

Former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury was at the helm when Oregon moved to its mail-only method of casting a ballot more than two decades ago. He says the process is just as secure, effective and popular as it was then, and he questions the motives of opponents who claim it could lead to widespread fraud.

"It saddens me that we have a democracy based on one person, one vote, yet, there are phenomenal efforts to try to suppress that vote," Bradbury said. "And those people also are not wildly enthusiastic about vote-by-mail because it increases turnout."

Bradbury said some of Oregon's best practices include prepaid postage for mailed ballots, voter-signature verification, ballot tracking, and early verification of ballots.

Kristin Eberhard is Climate and Democracy director with the Sightline Institute, which gave Oregon an "A" for preparedness in its state-by-state vote-by-mail guidelines. She said Oregon's election leaders are sharing their expertise with other states.

"Some of them will be taking a big leap from having only 5% vote by mail to possibly more than half this year," Eberhard said. "So nobody is starting completely from zero, but they are definitely learning from their fellow officials here in the West."

Bradbury added Oregon's use of forensic signature verification helps to quash voter fraud.

"They can, right then and there, compare the signature on the ballot with the signature on computer. So it's a pretty accurate test. And incorrect signatures are caught by the county elections office on a pretty regular basis," Bradbury said.

Some opponents question the security of ballot certification in states just now adopting mail-in voting systems. Eberhard said an analysis found 17 battleground states are reasonably prepared to provide secure election results quickly.

However, with possible Postal Service delays, she suggests voting early.

"Some people put ballots in the mail maybe two days before Election Day, and that seems good enough for them. That might not be good enough for that ballot to get to their election official by Election Day this year," she said.

About 25% of voters in the U.S. cast a ballot by mail in 2018; estimates for November are upwards of 70% of voters. More information on the vote-by-mail process by state is available here.

Disclosure: Sightline Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Energy Policy, Sustainable Agriculture, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OR