Bladine: New law can delay final election results

Election officials in Oregon counties apparently were ill-prepared this year to manage a new law that requires accepting mailed ballot returns for a week past election day. Perhaps lessons learned in 2022 will be useful in future elections, or perhaps, lawmakers will realize it was a law that should be amended or rescinded.

In 2021, the Legislature said all ballots with a “postal indicator” mailing date on or before Election Day must be counted if received up to seven days later. A month after that deadline, the long-awaited report of those delayed returns still was pending.

Editor’s Note: Thursday, Dec. 15 – after the deadline for this column – was final deadline for state certification of the November general election results.


Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Fortunately, there was no flurry of candidate or ballot measure result reversals from those latle-mailed ballots. In Yamhill County, concerns about delayed reporting of results during election week have been attributed to inexperience in the county clerk’s office.

Clerk Keri Hinton partially attributed the delay to Election-Day ballot returns that were higher than in the 2020 general election. State reports confirm that 3,180 election-day ballots in 2022 did exceed the 2,958 reported in 2020; however, Election-Day ballot returns for Yamhill County numbered 10,998 in 2014 and 12,020 in 2018 without causing similar delays.

We do know, from state Elections Division reports, that Oregon counties received 1,813,994 ballots by election day. Another report shows that count at 1,968,625 ballots as of 6 a.m. Thursday, so it appears nearly 155,000 ballots statewide were received after election day.

One state report shows ballot returns for every county every day up to Nov. 8. Since then, the Elections Division has been unable to provide updates, so county election officials statewide apparently had problems reporting daily ballot returns from Nov. 9-15.

Some argue that the new law “ensures that every vote cast on time gets counted.” I might counter by suggesting that anyone who can get to a post office on Election Day just as easily could use one of 15 Yamhill County drop boxes set up in every city, including three in Newberg and four in McMinnville.

Maybe one challenge is inexperienced voters. Oregon now has nearly 3 million eligible voters – about 812,000 more than in 2014 – due to the 2016 “Motor Voter Law” that automatically registers people when they apply for licensing. As you might imagine, voter turnout percentages have dropped as a result.

Perhaps prominent warnings on Oregon ballot envelopes should say, “Mail at least one week before Election Day, or deposit in an official ballot drop box.”

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.


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