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Some overseas voters miss deadline due to foreign postmarks

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Chris Lehman
/
KLCC
Postmarks from other countries, such as Canada, do not count towards meeting the deadline for Oregon's new election postmark law.

A new Oregon law allows ballots to count even if they arrive after Election Day, as long as they’ve been postmarked on or before Election Day. But the law does not apply to postmarks made in other countries.

Some Oregon voters found that out the hard way this year, said Multnomah County Elections Director Tim Scott.

“They see the information that, ‘oh, it must be postmarked by Election Day,’" he recently told the Oregon House Interim Committee on Rules. "And when they mail it from their home country, they get a postmark. But we’re not allowed to look at those foreign postmarks unless it’s postmarked by the USPS.”

The 2021 bill that established the "postmarks count" policy loosely defines what qualifies as a postmark. The measure directs the Oregon Secretary of State to create a rule establishing a more complete set of standards.

That rule defines a postmark as "any official mark, imprint, or stamp that verifies when a ballot was accepted by the United States Postal Service."

A postmark issued by a foreign postal service would not indicate "acceptance by the United States Postal Service," rending the international postmark irrelevant when it comes to establishing whether a ballot was mailed in time.

The requirement for a postmark to be issued by the USPS in order to be valid is stated on the Oregon Secretary of State's web page that has information for military and overseas voters.

Voters who live abroad may include members of the U.S. military and their families, or people temporarily studying or working abroad. Elections officials generally place ballots in the mail to foreign address several weeks before they are mailed to voters living in the United States, giving them more time to fill out their ballot and return it than voters living in Oregon or elsewhere in the United States.

Regardless of their postmark, ballots that are mailed from abroad are valid if they arrive back at elections offices on or before Election Day.

Oregon voters living abroad who don't want to take the chance on their ballot arriving in time or receiving the proper postmark can also submit their ballot via fax or email, but doing so requires them to sign a form waiving their right to a secret ballot.

The postmark law took affect this year in Oregon. Some vote-by-mail states, including Washington, already permitted postmarks to count toward the Election Day deadline.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State's office, 2,416 ballots received by mail after the May primary were disqualified, either due to a late postmark or because—even despite an "on-time" postmark—they arrived at an elections office more than one week following Election Day. The data does not indicate how many of those disqualified ballots arrived from overseas voters.

The number of disqualified post-election ballots was around six percent of all ballots that arrived in the mail after Election Day, meaning the vast majority of post-Election Day ballots were counted and included in the final election results. The May primary was the first statewide election for which the new postmark law applied.

A spokesperson for the Secretary of State said similar numbers are not yet available for the November general election.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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