SALEM, Ore. — Oregon's Republican secretary of state hailed the state's pioneering vote-by-mail as an example for the rest of the nation on Friday, though another election official warned of likely delays in announcing election results because of the coronavirus.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno challenged all voters in the state to cast ballots “so that Oregon can lead the nation in voter turnout and your voice will be heard.”
The statements from Clarno in a newsletter represents a counterpoint to President Donald Trump's repeated statements, which are baseless, that voting by mail leads to massive fraud. After the 2016 election, 22 people were found guilty in Oregon of voting in two states — accounting for far less than 1% of ballots cast.
Since Oregon held the first all vote-by-mail in the nation 20 years ago, Colorado, Hawaii, Utah and Washington state have followed. Other states are edging toward it amid concerns that forcing voters to gather at polling places could spread the coronavirus.
But while vote-by-mail eliminates that risk, social distancing imposed to stop the spread of the virus means fewer election workers can be in county offices to count and sort the ballots.
That could delay the release of unofficial results, Brian Van Bergen, representing the Oregon Association of County Clerks, told a panel of the Legislature on Thursday.
“We expect to see more ballots processed this fall than we ever have in Oregon, with fewer people,” said Van Bergen, the clerk for Yamhill County, southwest of Portland.
Just because some races, especially in more populous counties, might not be called on election night like they normally are, people should not say, “Oh no, we're in a crisis mode,” Van Bergen said.
"We will all be better off if we all understand that we may not have the percentage of ballots processed that we normally would when we go home on election night,” Van Bergen told lawmakers in a videoconference call.
Ballots will start to be mailed to voters in Oregon on Oct. 14 and must all be on their way by Oct. 20, the secretary of state's office says.
Despite changes at the U.S. Postal Service that have caused delays in mail delivery, Van Bergen and other election officials say they're confident that ballots mailed by voters at least a week before Election Day on Nov. 3 will arrive at county elections offices in time.
Voters can also take their ballots straight to elections offices or use drop boxes that will be scattered around towns. Some Oregon counties want more drop boxes, and are having problems acquiring them. He encouraged lawmakers to try to help the counties.
“All those vendors out there are being inundated by states all over the nation trying to get more drop boxes,” Van Bergen said. “So the time is short to get those in place and up and running.”