June 07, 2001 11:00 pm

A bill advancing through the Oregon House is designed to reward procrastinators those voters who for one reason or another cannot get their ballots into designated collection places by the 8 p.m. deadline on election days.

Under the current system, voters are required to cast their ballots by 8 p.m. on the day of the election. They have a number of ways to accomplish that. They can mail their ballot by the Sunday or Monday before the Tuesday election, hoping the Postal Service will deliver their envelope to the county clerks office by election day. (County clerks usually advise that voters mail their ballot by the Friday before the election to ensure it will arrive on time, but a later mailing can also work.)

If voters choose to turn in their ballot on election day, they can drop it off at several sites in the area, including a box at the county office building or at sites set up at city halls in various communities. They must do this by 8 p.m. in order to have their ballot counted.

House Bill 3742, which has won support in that chambers rules committee, would allow voters to drop their ballots off in a post office box after the 8 p.m. deadline. The envelope, however, would have to be postmarked by the end of election day. Voters would have to be assured that a worker is at the post office late at night putting that days postmark on the envelope before it is delivered to the county elections office the next day.

The idea has several weaknesses. For one thing, why should our system make it easy for procrastinators? Shouldnt voters make every effort to meet the deadline? And 8 p.m. on the day of the election is not unreasonable.

Second, a next-day delivery of mailed-in ballots will make it harder for people in the county elections office to tally the results and declare a winner. An onslaught of late-filed ballots, for example, could delay the results of a close election by a day or longer. Shouldnt voters and candidates be entitled to know the results of elections as soon as possible after the 8 p.m. deadline?

Third, HB 3742 would allow people to organize an effort to get more ballots into late-closing post offices if a race is still close after officials begin announcing results after 8 p.m.

The current deadline provides ample time for conscientious voters to get their ballots to the county elections office to be counted. Legislators should not tinker with the system by allowing an 8 p.m. deadline to be stretched to midnight.

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