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May 14, 2008

Trick Question: When Is Election Day in Oregon?

posted by Josh Goodman

Myth: The Oregon primary is May 20.

No, there isn't a mistake on your primary calendar. May 20 is the last day to turn in ballots in Oregon and the day vote counting will begin.

It's just that in the only state where every registered voter is mailed a ballot each election (and ballots are generally returned by mail), election "day" doesn't exist. A Democratic primary poll conducted on Monday showed that 43% of likely voters had already voted.

I wrote a feature story about voting by mail in the current issue of Governing. Here's the upshot:

Oregon's experience has other states wondering whether they should try postal voting. But the truth is, many of them already are. While Oregon's system of voting exclusively by mail remains unique, obstacles to absentee voting are disappearing throughout the country. In many states, all you have to do is ask for an absentee ballot to get one. You don't need a reason. The result is that citizens are casting more of their ballots through the mailbox every year. Not too many people seem to have noticed, but the traditional precinct election, where everyone shows up on the appointed day, is in the process of decline.

My story focused mainly on the implications of this trend for election administration. Is postal voting an answer to the debate over voting technology and the shortage of poll workers? Is it more convenient? Is it susceptible to fraud?

The implications of voting by mail for campaigns are just as significant, however.

Encouraging voter turnout is a bit different when voters don't actually have to turn out. Candidates have to time their campaign events, television ads and direct mail around a new and somewhat amorphous calendar. October surprises can still have an impact, but November surprises might not, if most ballots have already been cast.


ivan swift

mail voting is coming and it will increase voter turnout totals. Fraud? there will always be fraud. it's as old as voting. someday we will all be voting by computer, changing our vote as we see fit until deadline, looking at running totals precinct by precinct. we politics addicts will go nuts with all the info. and we'll know who won the second the voting deadline occurs without listening to the screetching of the TV hyenas.

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