Election 2008

Mail-In Vote Presents Challenges in Oregon

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Oregon is the only state that votes entirely by mail, which means Election Day lasts about two and a half weeks. That presents some special challenges for the campaigns.

Though he's been consistently leading in the polls in Oregon, Barack Obama reminded supporters in Albany on Saturday that there was action they needed to take — the sooner the better.

"I hope everyone's voted," he told supporters. "And if you haven't — vote right now, and vote for me because I'm looking forward to being president of the United States of America."

At Hillary Clinton's headquarters in Portland, volunteers like Sonya Hanchar were also trying to seal the deal, reminding voters that ballots had to be in by May 20.

If residents don't want to rely on the post office to get their votes in on time, there are special drop boxes around the state. For those who need a little more pizzazz, there is a BYOB party — that's "bring your own ballot" — on Sunday with former President Bill Clinton.

Hillary Clinton's Oregon campaign director, Clay Haynes, says the ballot parties are conveniently located near county courthouses and other ballot collection sites.

"We encourage individuals who haven't already mailed the ballot back in to bring those with them, go ahead and deposit them right there and get to see the president all at the same time," Hanes says.

In Oregon, the get-out-the-vote process is extended over a couple of weeks, rather than a couple of days, says Nick Shapiro, the communications director for Obama's Oregon campaign. On the one hand, he says, it's more work. But there are also built-in advantages, he says.

"The Secretary of State's office makes available to the campaigns not who you voted for, of course, but who has voted," he says. "That way, we don't have to spend resources or time going to someone who's already sent in a ballot."

For campaigns, that's even better than being able to offer a voter a T-shirt or a yard sign, says Jim Moore, political science professor at Pacific University.

"They say, basically, 'The robocalls will stop if we see your name on the vote list,'" Moore says. "And that's a real appeal to some people."

In fact when Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski was running, he had campaign signs that said, "Turn in your vote. Don't make me call you."

Oregonians are used to this setup. They've been voting by mail in some elections for 30 years, says Moore, and in all elections since 2000. But it has required some fundamental breaks with the way most Americans think elections should be conducted.

"We got rid of that big reform that guaranteed secrecy in the voting booth," he says, "and got rid of the idea that no one can come between you and directly placing your ballot in the box — a sealed locked box."

Yes, the ballot here is like any other piece of mail: You can give it to someone else to drop off, says Moore.

"What happens if the Democrat comes by, picks up your ballots, and knows you're Republican and doesn't turn it in?" he says. "There's that caution there but there's also that idea that it's the community and that 'Yeah, I'll turn it in. I'll turn in your ballot when I go down by the box.' "

Pay the gas bill, RSVP to a cousin's wedding and determine the future of the country — all in one easy trip.



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