Get that ballot IN

Marion County ballots are being mailed this week. Mark yours and turn it in as soon as possible.

Why?

– You won’t get phone calls.

Elections officials keep track of who has turned in their ballot (though not what your vote was). That information appears in online databases. Candidates and their volunteers can see if you’ve voted. They often call tardy voters to get their ballot in. You can avoid the hassle if you mail your ballot in early.

– You won’t have to find a drop box to drop your ballot by hand.

Ballot drop box locations are printed on pages 4 and 5 of the Marion County Voter Pamphlet. But stamps are 47 cents now. Avoid the drive, the gas and the traffic! Mail your ballot immediately.

Election Day May 17 Mail by May 10

“If you don’t mail before May 10, you are taking a chance,” says Bill Burgess, Marion County Clerk.

Salem mail – even mail destined for Salem – is now routed up through Portland. This can delay mail delivery times back in Salem. For this reason, Burgess and other Marion County election officials are urging voters who want to mail their ballots to post it by May 10 – ONE FULL WEEK before election day.

“We’ve seen time and again, that a few ballots don’t make it in time. One year there were 22 that didn’t get in on time. We don’t want that to happen to anyone.”

Why May Matters

Relevant nationally

May 17 is the day that Democratic Oregonians will vote for Hillary or Bernie and Republican Oregonians will vote for Kasich, Trump or Cruz.

Neither national party has an official presidential candidate yet, and Oregon, though not decisive, will be a more important state in the race than usual as the parties head towards their national conventions. The general election, when everyone will make a final decision on who will be our next President, will be held on November 8, 2016.

It’s a crucial election year for the country, since, among other things, four Supreme Court judges will be older than 80 during the next President’s term. The President nominates new justices, who determine the nation’s law for generations to come.

Important statewide

Here in Oregon the May election will also determine who will run off in November as the Democratic and Republican candidates for Oregon’s governor. It will determine who will compete later in the year as candidates for two long-held national legislative seats, one in the U.S. Senate (currently held by Kurt Schrader) and one the U.S. House of Representative (now held by Ron Wyden.)

Vital locally

In Salem, May 17 will be the date citizens will determine the direction they want their city government to take. There will be no November vote for city seats; it all happens now.

The May ballot has contested races in 3 of 4 city council slots, one uncontested council seat and a race for who will be Salem’s next mayor.

Oregon election law allows for these positions to be determined in the primary. This law, which is not inevitable, means that our city government will be determined by a smaller number of the electorate because substantially fewer voters cast a ballot in a primary than a general election.

“Even in relatively high-turnout years,” says the Pew Research Center, “… primaries attract far fewer voters than general elections, even though they determine whom voters get to choose from come November.” For example, in 2012, 129.1 million Americans, 53 % of the voting-age population, cast ballots in the November general presidential election – as opposed to fewer than 28 million in the 2012 spring primaries.

Every state has different laws regulating local elections. In some areas of California, for example, candidates for city council do not run in the spring at all. They save their campaigns for November, when turnout is higher, and the person with the most votes wins the council seat.

Attempts to raise voter participation

When Gov. Kate Brown signed the “motor-voter” bill last spring, Oregon became the first state in the nation with a law that automatically signs people up to vote when they renew their driver’s license.  It remains to be seen whether these new voters will participate in May – or even November. When Canada implemented a similar system about 20 years ago, it did not see an increase in voter turnout.

Oregon’s mail-in ballot system, which does not require voters to stand in line on Election Day, however, does see increased participation. Data gathered by Michael P. McDonald of the United States Election Project shows that in the three states where voters can utilize “postal voting,” voter “turnout” is consistently higher than the rest of the nation. In 2012, the average U.S. turnout was 62.2% of voters; in Oregon it was 68.3%.

A month from now, the numbers will be in, city races decided and figures tallied about how many voters in our city of more than 160,000 decided who the next mayor should be.

The Oregon Secretary of State elections division site contains all the information Oregonians will need to vote. It also quotes a remark made by Franklin D. Roosevelt:

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not vote.”