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Straight Talk: Oregon's Secretary of State takes aim at election misinformation

Shemia Fagan's office released PSAs reminding voters about Oregon's closed primaries and a new law that allows ballots to be postmarked on election day.

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon's primary election is about a month away on May 17, with ballots going out in less than two weeks. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan wants Oregonians to feel confident in the security of the state's election process.

"We have been the gold standard in elections and vote-by-mail for 20 years. We have paper ballots. You can't hack paper, forensic signature verification, unique bar code tracking for every single ballot that goes out to every single voter," Fagan said.

Combating misinformation

A poll by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center shows nearly one third of Oregonians still believe there was significant fraudulent voting in the 2020 election.

Appearing on KGW's "Straight Talk," Fagan was emphatic in saying that's not true and that the 2020 election results were accurate. Her office is on the offensive in an effort to reassure Oregonians they can feel confident in the safety and security of Oregon elections and to clear up any confusion voters may have about the process.

"In my office, we know the best tool against false information is accurate information," she said. Fagan's office is working on an initiative called "pre-bunking" getting out ahead of any misinformation and confusion.

"There's less work to do in de-bunking false information if you pre-bunk that information and Oregonians hear accurate information about their elections first," she said.

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Clearing up confusion over Oregon's closed primaries

One of the ways the Oregon Secretary of State's office is trying to "pre-bunk" is through public service announcements. The first one focuses on Oregon's closed primary elections. County clerks have said that's the number one source of confusion when voters receive their primary election ballots.

"Maybe it's (the ballot) is different than their spouse's ballot or they've seen a candidate on TV who they want to vote for or against and yet that person is not on their ballot," Fagan said.

That's because the Oregon Democratic and Republican parties have chosen to have closed primaries, so in order to vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate in the primary a voter must be registered with that party at least 21 days before the election. That deadline this year is April 26th. Voters can check or change their voter registration at OregonVotes.gov.

"For those folks who don't like to be registered to a party, they can go on OregonVotes.gov the day after the election and go back to being a non-affiliated voter. Just understand that's why sometimes ballots look different in the same household because of party affiliation and closed primaries," she said.

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Oregon ballots can now be postmarked on Election Day and be counted

Another change in Oregon elections is a new law that allows ballots to be postmarked on Election Day and still be counted. Washington state is already doing this. In the past in Oregon, ballots had to be at the county elections office by 8pm on Election Day. The new law allows ballots to be postmarked by 8pm and arrive at the elections office no later than seven days after Election Day to be counted.

"I want to emphasize these ballots are cast on time. They're signed, sealed, and postmarked by 8pm on Election Day. They may take up to 7 days to get there by mail, but as long as they have that postmark by Election Day, Oregonians can be sure that everybody cast their ballot on time. And only ballots cast on time will be counted by our county clerks," Fagan said.

The change may also mean results from close races won’t be available on Election Night.

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See something concerning online? Call your county elections clerk

Fagan encouraged voters to keep an eye out for misinformation and be vigilant about checking its accuracy with election officials.

"If you see something, ask somebody. If you see something online about the election coming up, call your county clerk. Call the elections division. Go to OregonVotes.gov," she said.

Fagan said their website OregonVotes.gov will include a page where her office is keeping up with misinformation and false claims and providing accurate information for voters.

"The biggest thing I want people to know is Oregon elections are secure, accessible, and trustworthy and we have had vote-by-mail working great for over 20 years, and it's going to continue working great under my administration," Fagan said.

On this week's episode of "Straight Talk," Fagan also discussed her recent controversial decisions disqualifying former gubernatorial candidate, Nicholas Kristof, and her decision to reject three campaign finance ballot measures. She also explained her office's audits of Oregon's home mortgage interest deduction and an audit expected to be released soon looking into Oregon's Employment Department and the long delays delivering unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. 

Straight Talk is also available as a podcast.

Watch previous episodes of Straight Talk on YouTube:

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