The real Oregon vote by mail example

Writing in the Washington Post in the wake of the 2004 presidential election, Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury pitched his own state’s vote-by-mail system as an answer to touch screen and polling place staffing controversies experienced elsewhere. But in doing so, he obviously felt the need to spin one of vote-by-mail’s biggest perceived weaknesses: its relative slowness in reporting results.

With a large number of ballots received before Election Day, the first tally released on election night contained nearly 50 percent of the vote and proved to be an accurate predictor of the final numbers.

That’s right, Oregon’s first election night tally in 2004 encompassed less than half the ballots ultimately counted… a little more than King County’s first and only election night report last Tuesday, and a little less than that for Washington state as a whole. As I’ve explained before, it’s not the lack of ballots that slows our returns, but rather the lack of sufficient resources to count the ballots as they come in.

If the goal of Washington Sec. of State Sam Reed, and now Gov. Chris Gregoire, is to provide near complete returns on election night, changing the ballot deadline to Oregon’s received by election day standard simply won’t do it. Rather, the only reliable solution would be to scrap vote-by-mail altogether.


  1. 1

    Narrows Bridge spews:

    Since mail-in voting tends to increase voter turnout, has it been less turnout in Oregon with the different deadline?

    I hope that increased turnout would drive the discussions on what type of voting system to have. I’ve not heard that mail-in voting necessarily lowers cost with the need to check signatures. I’m uncertain why knowing sooner rather than later should be one of the considerations.

    You would think with 50 states, one would decide to try a State holiday for General Election day. I wonder how that would increase turnout.

  2. 2

    notaboomer spews:

    absolutely. state should publish the #/percentage of ballots received on each day prior to “election day” as I suspect it would be 75% or more. they can start count pre-election day but not release results until published time on election day. what is the big deal? hire some temps to count (they are going through machines anyway right?)

  3. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    One effect of requiring ballots to be received by Election Day will be to make cautious voters who want to make sure their votes are counted mail their ballots as soon as they receive them.

    This means elections will effectively be held a couple days after ballots are mailed out, and any and all campaigning after the date will be futile and wasted.

  4. 4

    Lefty Loosey spews:

    Yes yes yes!

    Rinse, repeat.

    The pols seem to want it both ways: fast returns and less- accountability and ballots which require more steps to verify. If they don’t like what they’ve done to the system, let ‘em go back to a quicker, easier process, such as polling places and ballots.

    My final two points: if you deposit your money, don’t you want a written verification the transaction was received and recorded accurately? Why should one’s vote be considered less important? And why should we, the voters, not be allowed to determine how we should vote? Don’t the politicians trust us?

  5. 5

    40-year Voter spews:

    I may have posted this here before, and if so just consider this a reminder. In the very first election campaign I ever worked on, in 1970, we knew the results 40 minutes after the polls closed. We used voting machines in Seattle back then, and it was simple to visit polling places after 8:00 p.m. and note the results posted in the windows.

    Things have been getting steadily worse ever since, at least when it comes to timely vote counting.

  6. 6

    fairness uber alles spews:

    why not count the ballots as they come in AND release the resulsts, even prior to election day?

    well, why not?

    Becuase it would make campaigns go urge more people to vote, so why is that a bad thing?

  7. 7

    prefer transparent verfiable elections spews:

    @1 Based on a little research I did a few years ago, increasing the number of voters who vote by mail doesn’t necessarily increase turnout. Some research has shown that the there is initially an increase in turnout, over the first few election cycles, but ultimately the turnout decreases. Oregon has shown a slight increase.

    What we need to also consider is the number of people disenfranchised by vote by mail. Again, it has been a few years since I researched this so I don’t have the exact numbers. What I do recall is that in KC in 2004, 5% of the people who voted by mail were disenfranchised, usually due to signature issues.

    In 2008 that percentage had dropped to about 3%, but this still means thousands of voters.

    Regarding the due date for ballots, now our Democratic Governor and our Republican Secretary of State want to implement a needless restriction that will disenfranchise even more Washington voters.

    As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the grassroots needs to act on this. I recommend that we all do not wait for the legislation to be put forward. I think we need to begin now by writing letters to the Seattle Times and to our state legislators, and the Governor. We need to tell them that we oppose this and that we do not want them to even place their names on this legislation let alone vote for it.

    Last session a number of respected Democratic legislators co-sponsored Republican Sam Reed’s reckless legislation to design and implement an Internet voting program. With a great deal of effort, activists were able to temporarily delay this legislation. I expect to see it again this year. My point however, is that we need to contact our legislators now to prevent them from co-sponsoring this legislation to change the due date for ballots so it never gets off the ground.

  8. 8

    prefer transparent verfiable elections spews:

    @ 3

    I think this is another very good argument in opposition to mandating that ballots be returned by Election Day.

  9. 9

    Pete spews:

    @3, I don’t think I agree, since presumably one could use the drop boxes at neighborhood service centers until 8pm on election day if they got passed the date to mail in the ballot. Also, I don’t like canvassing after the first results are released (as McGinn’s campaign did) and I think requiring all ballots be turned in by election day would prevent that.

    @6, What you discribe is basically what good campaigns do now. Using updated databases from the county, they target likely voters who have not yet cast their ballots. Although I think it’s fine to release the database of who has voted, I don’t like releasing results until all the polls are closed as it can act to supress turnout in some cases and thus affect other down the ballot races/measures .

  10. 10


    Hi Goldy.

    Quick results and mail balloting our mutually exclusive. Monkeying with the deadline doesn’t change that.

    If the goal … is to provide near complete returns on election night … the only reliable solution would be to scrap vote-by-mail altogether.

    Whoa. Let’s slow down a bit.

    Here are the knowns:

    Disruptive change is the biggest threat to election integrity. HAVA’s $2b resulted in unreliable touchscreens being rushed to market. Look at how well that worked out. I oppose changing our election system again at this time.

    The new gear we just bought has been orphaned. We paid more for our gear than ES&S paid for all of Diebold. Shows you how much value they place on Diebold’s current products. ES&S will be pushing their customers (us) to buy ES&S gear. As bad as Diebold is, ES&S and their gear are far worse. (For example, ES&S programs their machines each and every election, not the counties.)

    The correct answer is poll ballots cast and counted at the precinct. aka precinct-based optical scanners (PBOS). Comparative studies (cost, error rates, integrity, etc) are conclusive. Note: Absentee ballots for people who would otherwise be disenfranchised.


    There is currently no acceptable PBOS system. It’ll be a few more years before we have open source products on the market. Even then, they should be phased in with pilot projects and so forth.


    We’re stuck with the system have now. We can’t move forward. We can’t move back. We have to make the best with what we currently have.

    And that means waiting for election results.

    The people who rammed this crap down our throats will just have to accept the consequences of their decisions.

  11. 11


    narrows @ 1

    Since mail-in voting tends to increase voter turnout

    According to the people at the vote by mail project and the vendors. Who have no data. The best they have is some inconclusive studies in Oregon which show that vote by mail doesn’t have an impact on partisan turnout.

    When comparing turnout scientifically, the data shows vote by mail turnout increases for primaries and special elections and decreases for general elections. You can read more here.

  12. 12


    notaboomer @ 2

    state should publish the #/percentage of ballots received on each day prior to “election day” as I suspect it would be 75% or more.

    Based on the data I gathered:

    ~2/3rds of ballots are received election day or earlier

    ~1/3rd of ballots are ready to count on election day.

    Here’s my analysis. My data is from 2006, using the old system. KCE’s new equipment and procedures may increase the number ready to count on election day.

    I agree: Election administrators should publish all related documents online. Certainly everything presented to the certification board should be published online as-is, with no delay.

  13. 13

    DavidD spews:


    I remember those voting machines fondly. And knowing the election results so quickly just as fondly.

    In Pierce county when they decided to go all mail in ballot, it was because taxpayers wanted the county to cut costs (because of the old “20% of any government budget is fat” meme)so one place to cut costs was yearly storage of voting machines, poll workers and the polling sites.

    To try and get election results early Pierce County was counting ballots early – which was illegal under the voting rules in Pierce county and they got slapped for it.

  14. 14


    DavidD @ 13

    because taxpayers wanted the county to cut costs

    Did anyone at any time say what the costs were? King County stopped making the cost argument once we pushed back.

    I tried for a while to get the budgets and expenditures for our elections. No joy.

    I figure now I’d have to lawyer up, get them from sympathetic counties, or patiently wait for Larry Phillips’ proposal for county budgets, in their entirety, to be posted online.

    Which do you think is most likely?

  15. 15

    Daddy Love spews:

    As I understand it, every other state that uses vote by mail requires that ballots be received by election day. With drop boxes I don’t think that’s an awful requirtement, yet I still favor our “postmarked by election day” system.

    I just think it’s silly to worry overmuch about whether you know at 8:03 PM on election day what every result is. Have a little patience. Unclench.