SENATE SHOULD REJECT MAIL-BALLOTING CHANGE
At first glance, House Bill 2825 appears to be something that would improve the way Oregonians vote. It would shorten the period that voters would have their ballots in their hands before an election. County clerks would be required to mail out the ballots 11 days before an election, not the 14 to 18 days as currently required.
UNDER THE proposed law, which the House approved recently by a 31-29 vote, ballots would be mailed out one week later than they are now. Voters would have to respond more quickly than they do now. The voting period would be shortened.
But, we ask, did the representatives who approved this bill ask what Oregon's county clerks thought about the change? Or did they stop to consider the impact the shorter time frame would have on seniors, shut-ins or people with disabilities? Union County Clerk Nellie Bogue Hibbert says she doubts any of the 36 county clerks are supporting this bill.
UNDER THE proposal, ballots would be mailed out on a Friday and arrive in homes that Saturday or Monday. Voters who decide to mail in their return would have to mark their ballots quickly and get them back in the mail in the next two or three days. If they don't act promptly, they would need to drop their ballot off by Election Day at the county elections office or at a drop box, typically at city halls.
Bogue Hibbert said people mailing their ballots back to La Grande from outlying communities, such as Elgin, Imbler or Union, can see a three-day delay in the time they drop their envelope in the mail and the time it arrives at the elections office. The reason: mail from the outlying communities is processed in Pendleton before it turns around and makes the trip back over the Blues to La Grande. That delay is the reason why Bogue Hibbert recommends that people who mail in their ballot do so no later than the Thursday before an election three or four days after they would receive it under HB 2825.
SOME PEOPLE, such as the elderly, people with disabilities, those without motor vehicles or rural voters who live a long distance from drop box sites, must rely on the mail in getting their ballots to the election office. These people would be disenfranchised if for some reason they are unable to get their ballot back in time.
Supporters of HB 2825 say it could potentially lower candidates' campaign costs because of the shorter voting period. There is no documented link to show that vote-by-mail has increased campaign costs, according to Bogue Hibbert. Politicians usually have a budget for campaign advertising and will spend these dollars in the weeks prior to an election. The amount they spend may have little to do with how long voters have the ballots in their hands.
The vote was close in the House. Oregon senators, including our own, Sen. David Nelson of Pendleton, should examine the reasons why so many representatives were opposed to HB 2825, and reject this bill. If our county clerks don't see the system as broken, why fix it?