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Politics & Government

Oregon and Washington voters are turning out in droves

Pacific Northwesterners appear anxious to vote this year.

At ballot drop boxes in Multnomah County on Monday, there was a steady stream of early voters delivering ballots.

Some people just wanted to check voting off their to-do lists. Others, like Michael Sylvester, said they are worried about postal service disruptions and fake drop boxes.

“I’m making sure this is in early so that we can make sure there is no funky illegal elections,” Sylvester told OPB.

He plans to check online later, to ensure his ballot has been counted.

Some minor issues with mailed-in ballots have already been reported. Police in Camas, Washington, responded Sunday to dumped mail, including six ballots. They said four mailboxes had been pried open as well. But they also said suspects in those cases are likely looking for mail that can be used for financial gains, like checks and credit cards. Police returned those ballots to their owners.

The Vancouver Police Department has said it will be conducting enhanced patrols around authorized ballot boxes to deter potential voter intimidation or tampering.

Michael Mikeworth is retired and dropped off his ballot early Monday, not because he’s worried about the mail, but because he wanted to get it done before going elk hunting. He said he doesn’t think Oregonians need to worry about vote-by-mail.

“Our last two secretaries of state were Republicans and they supported it,” he said. “It works well here.”

Multnomah County Elections Director Tim Scott said turnout is very high this year, about 25,000 people a day have been voting since ballots first started landing in the mail last week.

“We typically only go to the drop sites every other business day,” Scott said. “But we’ve decided to go every day during this cycle, just because the returns are so high.”

Scott said a lot more people are also signing up for the county’s ballot tracking program. “They can get text message, emails or phone calls to let them know where their ballot is in the process.”

So far, turnout in Multnomah County is more than 12% and there are still two weeks to go until Election Day.

Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, which is nationally seen as highly accessible relative to other states, is living up to its reputation. Chris Tent has a partner who, she said, can’t use his hands to sign a document because he has Parkinson’s disease. But he desperately wanted to vote, so she was registering the mark he’s planning to use to identify himself.

“They said it’s anything he wants. He happened to use a simple X. But it could be anything,” Tent said.

She said Multnomah County made the process simple to register a signature.

“It’s two forms. Bring them back, wait a couple of days and vote,” Tent said. “It’s just so easy.”

It’s still too early to gauge turnout, however. Andrea Chiapella with the Oregon secretary of state’s office said they’ve only got returns from one day so far. But it was high: 86,679 people.

“Generally speaking, we had a record number of people turning out in the primary election and I would say we’re poised to see similar results,” she said.

So far, turnout across Oregon stands at about 3%.

Ballots are also piling in quickly in Southwest Washington. Clark County has seen almost 5% of votes returned in the three days since officials dispersed ballots. “It’s been really consistent all the way,” said county auditor Greg Kimsey. “And continuing today, very busy at the ballot drop boxes today.”

By 4 p.m. Monday, Kimsey said his division had collected 23,000 ballots from drop boxes on Monday alone. He expected thousands more to come in via mail.

Lewis County delivered ballots on Oct. 9 to approximately 53,000 voters. Elections supervisor Heather Boyer said about 23% have come back.

Cowlitz County, with 71,200 registered voters, had not calculated its rate by Monday morning.

In Washington, eligible voters can register in-person until Election Day.

“I’ve been registering people nonstop this morning,” said Cowlitz County auditor Caroyln Fundingsland.

Election2020 banner, 180h
Dana Rierson /

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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