Vote By Mail Best Practices in Oregon

Vote By Mail Best Practices in Oregon



Oregon was the first full Vote by Mail (VBM) state so the current US Postal Service news deeply concerns us. See our current blog post about this. More states are scrambling to institute VBM, to protect voters from undue COVID exposure. We want to share information and hope it will help you.

See Oregon’s Vote By Mail Procedures Manual. It is posted on this page with other elections’ manuals and tutorials. This video is from the state Elections Division:

And other helpful videos:

How Ballots are processed in Lane County, Oregon

Multnomah CO Election Security with VBM” excerpted from LWVOR Cybersecurity study presentation.

Maintaining Voter Privacy with the Optional Secrecy Sleeve”, Multnomah County Elections

Best Practices

What are the best practices for the following sections in operating a vote by mail infrastructure?

Request a (replacement) mail-in ballot

Oregon is VBM so all ballots are mail-in. To replace a ballot, see (ballot help): If your ballot arrives damaged, you make a mistake, spill something, lose your ballot, or for any other reason, contact your county elections office for a replacement ballot or to visit in person for help. Ask for any special COVID instructions to visit in person.

Observing the counting process

Oregon supports unparalleled transparency. Contact your county elections office to observe the election process. See the Oregon VBM Manual, p. 22, and the Election Law Summary Manual, p. 20.

Deadlines for receiving and postmarks for ballots?

Varies by state and in Oregon, is 8pm on election day for ballots to be: received in the mail, into drop boxes/drop sites, or delivered to the County Elections offices. Late arriving ballots are not counted. We encourage and hammer with heavy publicity to get ballots in on time. Campaigns and political parties call daily, using daily ballot return “match-back” reports from elections, to get ballots in on time. This year there is concern with COVID affecting all of us, for USPS cutbacks possibly slowing ballot delivery, with no provision for late acceptance.

When do they start counting ballots and when must counting be completed?

Ballot counting in Lane County, Oregon, for example, usually starts the Friday before election day. NO results are ever released before polling closes. Counting continues on election day until completed. That is not the same as election certification, determined by statute. For our May 19, 2020 primary, the election must be certified by June 18th. See our 2020 election calendar for state statute references. Use the Oregon Revised Statute (law) look-up link from UO Law. Elections law is Chapter 260. Harder to navigate, and the official source to cite, is Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS).

How many people are needed to count ballots, how are these people trained?

See Oregon Vote by Mail Procedures Manual. Experienced staff usually just needs a review, otherwise a day, half-day to train. We are concerned about staffing during the pandemic since many of these staffers are well within the demographic of those more susceptible.

How are drop box locations determined?

Se VBM Manual, p. 10 for drop box security. See Oregon drop box locator. Drop site requirements are in statute. LWVOR encourages voters to save taxpayers the prepaid postage in Oregon & use the ballot drop boxes when you can. Oregon’s drop box map is linked in, activated ~3 weeks before election day.

Training people for signature matching, creating signature matching procedures?

See VBM Manual under Staffing, p. 36.

Securing the ballots before, during and after counting

What are the top 2 reasons people’s ballots are rejected?

Per our state Elections Director, there are two big reasons; ballot isn’t signed or signature doesn’t match.

How are voters notified if there is a “problem” with their ballot and what processes are in place to allow voters to remedy the “problem”?

If voters share contact info, county elections will call or email. Problematic since this is public info and voters now don’t want the spam. Track with ballot tracker, need to verify if it can notify for problems.

What are the key considerations when operating a vote by mail infrastructure to ensure all votes are counted?

  1. Voter Registration: publicize widely and remind often because if voters aren’t registered, they can’t vote. Our #MotorVoter through the DMV is not perfect, with renewals only prompted every 8 years. Not everyone drives. We haven’t addressed party registration online, currently a separate, easily overlooked (actual paper) postcard. Our nonaffiliated voters, the default’ demographic, has increased dramatically since party registration has declined.
  2. Ballot Mailing Alerts: tell voters when ballots are being mailed, to contact their county elections’ offices if they haven’t gotten theirs. We strongly recommend that voters enroll in the state Elections Division, MyVote:
    1. Register to vote online
    2. Verify registration: is it up to date and valid
    3. Check ballot status: when was it mailed out, received, processed
    4. Track Your Ballot: sign up for emails to confirm ballot status. Encourage voters to sign up for ballot tracker, or whatever program your area may use, to track their ballots, from mailed, to received, to counted. Here in CA, Multnomah CO, OR, King CO WA
  3. Deadline pushing: Ballots must be received by deadlines, in Oregon by 8pm on election day-postmarks don’t help, and now, with pre-paid envelopes, our state Elections Director cautions that there will not be postmarks anyway. Be sure to use realistic mail processing time, longer if post offices have closures, as we did a few years ago, and now with cutback delays reported.
  4. Secure Procedures: See the videos and Manuals for thorough safety protocols to control location oversight, tracking, redundant staff review(s), which always have balanced political party inclusion in each team with everyone stopping together for meal or restroom breaks, etc.

Who are key allies for supporting VBM? Do they include groups representing communities of color, the disability community, etc.?

The ACLU, Common Cause, and political parties are regulars, and they may not work directly with LWV. Disability Rights Oregon is very active but strictly advocates for their limited constituency, not to benefit voters overall. The State Library, TBABS, Talking Books and Braille Services works directly for vision-related concerns. Keep in mind those advocating for current ballot measure issues, eg League of Conservation Voters, education communities, etc.

What research or data can you share to show that vote by mail has actually increased turnout, especially among underrepresented groups?

See The SoS Election Statistics page for general, primary, special election turnout and ballot return history since 2000. OR VBM statistics, a comprehensive history, from 1981 up to 2006.

On public education messaging

Is there any messaging or methods that seemed effective when explaining how to vote-by-mail to the general public?

Oregon started testing VBM in 1981, gradually expanding use, starting with small, local special elections. Please see the current linked above videos because our messaging has evolved.

During the implementation of all-mail elections in your state, what were some of the challenges advocates for all-mail elections had to overcome?

Vote by mail, automatic voter registration, pre-paid ballot postage, pre-registration for younger voters, all have been opposed, sometimes invoking opposition concern about voter fraud—which we have not observed. No one has been able to validate those concerns. From NPR, 2018, “If and when a bank gets robbed or a car gets stolen, we don’t stop using banks or cars. We enforce the laws we have in place.”

How should advocates for all-mail elections prepare for these challenges?

Encourage elections offices to prepare ASAP. Note this report was written in March 2020, in response to COVID concerns, and has been updated:

  • Establish needs (ballot quantity, cost, time, and materials’ availability), for paper, printing, processing and staffing/labor needs.
  • Equipment needs, requirements to acquire and have it in place, system compatibility, with staff trained to use it.
  • We are concerned that our veteran poll-working crew, many older and notably vulnerable to COVID-19, may not be available.
  • Coordinate a publicity campaign with trustworthy branding, a multi-faceted outreach to various communities and media, especially social media.
  • Include partners like the Dept of Education, youth groups, our Leagues, Common Cause, the ACLU, disability and minority voters rights’ groups, Chambers of Commerce, City Clubs, etc.

Oregon has compiled election statistics from 1992-2018, for cost per ballot (received), and per voter with turnout. Note, some of the variance is due to smaller voter turnout for special elections.

-Becky Gladstone, LWVOR President