By editorial board • 

Ignore wrong-ballot noise; it’s mostly national politics

This is a tale of two times, then and now.

In 1860, the newly formed Republican Party was riding high with the election of former Whig Abraham Lincoln as its first president. But four years later, the bloody Civil War was going badly, and Republicans were desperate.

One possible saving grace was Lincoln’s deep reservoir of support among the 600,000 Union troops deployed in the field. So, over fierce Democratic opposition, they established a vote-by-mail system for the American military. And they were rewarded with more than 70 percent of the mail-in vote, even though Lincoln’s opponent was a former commander in chief also running on a pro-war platform.

Republicans argued every citizen deserved the right to vote. They said troops shouldn’t be denied that right for serving their country in remote locations making in-person voting impossible.

Democrats cried foul, citing fears remote voting would open the floodgates for fraud. However, deployed soldiers have voted by mail since that time without a hint of corrupting interference or manipulation — more than 150 years and counting.

Today, with the coronavirus making crowded polling places a health hazard, the Democratic Party is advocating vote-by-mail as the national standard. And the Republican Party’s raising the specter of fraud.

There was more than a little self-interest at play in 1860, and that’s equally true now.

Today’s Republican voters are older, better rooted, and more white, rural and affluent, so vote more regularly and reliably. Thus Democratic participation tends to rise and fall disproportionately, based on the degree of challenge.

President Trump was right when he noted in one of his recent tweet storms that vote-by-mail “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

Republicans participate heavily in mail balloting themselves. In fact, the extended Trump clan has largely voted by mail in recent years, using the absentee-ballot system. The problem for them is, so do Democrats.

Only five states have taken Oregon’s lead in switching entirely. But thanks to absentee and military balloting, fully one-third of the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, the one that put Trump into office, arrived through the U.S. mail. And there is no evidence that has fostered an increase in fraudulent activity.

In the recent Oregon primary, a storm has arisen online over allegations some Republicans were wrongly given non-partisan ballots, denying them the chance to help choose their party’s general election candidates.

At the state level, balloting was overseen by lifelong Republican Bev Clarno, a former House speaker who left the Legislature to accept a federal appointment under President George H. Bush. (Of course, the governor-appointee is now being labeled a RINO, Republican in name only.) At the local level, it was overseen by a cadre of 36 county clerks who trend strongly Republican as well.

Yamhill County Clerk Brian Van Bergen  said he was flooded with complaints to that effect, but only one proved valid. And there is no credible evidence of more than a few dozen statewide, among more than 700,000 Republican voters.

Oregon’s system does cause confusions, escalated by its newish Motor Voter procedures. There are items to be vetted and improved. It’s not perfect. But it’s also not worth conspiring against.

What motive could adversaries possibly have? And how could it affect a general election, where all voters receive the same ballot?

Besides, ballots are mailed three weeks in advance. And all it takes to rectify an error is making contact with your local clerk’s office.

So what’s with all the superheated invective? Our guess would be national politics. Trump and his party are deathly opposed to mail-balloting. Our 1998 adoption makes us the national poster child, so anything tending to discredit our system plays into GOP hands nationally.

Partisan websites are running the story under headlines like, “HUGE SCANDAL.”

While some mail-ballot opponents worry about vote security, the underlying objection is candidate viability. So you can safely ignore all the artificial buzz.



Mailing ballots to all registered voters, alive some, dead some, moved out or just don't want to vote leaves an awful lot of ballots that are loose and free for anyone to fill them out. Answer is to have all voters request a ballot. Not just mailing them out blindly.